Apple Opens Vendor List to Labor Watchdogs

Tim CookApple CEO Tim Cook is putting his own stamp on the company yet again after Steve Jobs’ death. Apple on Friday made public a list of its suppliers and said it would allow independent third-party monitoring of its vendors.

It’s the first tech company to join the Fair Labor Association, a multinational organization aimed at improving work conditions and protecting worker rights. The association has been a big critic of workplace conditions for one vendor in particular: Foxconn in China, where a rash of suicides made headlines in 2010.  Foxconn’s still having labor problems. Earlier this month, 150 workers climbed to the roof of a factory to make their demands known. Financial Times  reports the workers didn’t actually threaten suicide and that situation was diffused, though other problems persist.

Business Insider pulls some points from an NPR show “This American Life” that looks at manufacturing of Apple products in China, including that the reporter found children ages 12 to 14 working in the plants.

Apple said it conducted 229 workplace audits last year, an 80 percent increase since 2010. It reported finding underage labor at five facilities, some instances of forced labor — it severed ties with that vendor — and some work weeks longer than 60 hours.

SiliconValley.com quotes Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, as saying:

Apple has always been pretty much above board, and they’ve tried to monitor their suppliers pretty judiciously. Having said that, they don’t have total control over everything at these facilities.

The article applauds this loosening of Apple’s culture of secrecy, though it’s not clear why the company didn’t do this before.

And Bloomberg quotes Auret van Heerden, the labor association’s president, saying:

Most big corporations have their ‘Nike moment’ at some stage — when they realize the difficulties of maintaining their standards, particularly in an increasingly global environment. The problem with the supply chain is that it’s a moving target.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Asian suppliers have ramped up production of the iPad 3 this month and are expected to hit full production in February. The new iPad, with a high-definition screen and faster processors, is due to debut in the U.S. market in March.

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