Chinese factories that assemble iPads and iPhones are currently being inspected in order to closely look at working conditions by an independent group, the Fair Labor Association, Apple (News - Alert) reported earlier this week. There has been growing criticism over Apple labor and environmental practices in recent weeks, and a list of suppliers for its popular gadgets have been disclosed.
The FLA team began the inspections Monday morning at Foxconn City in Shenzhen, China, a complex that employs and houses hundreds of thousands of workers. Yahoo reported that Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. employs an estimated 1.1 million people in China at a series of factory campuses. Foxconn assembles iPads and iPhones for Apple, Xbox 360 gaming consoles for Microsoft and other gadgets for companies including Hewlett-Packard (News - Alert) and Dell.
In 2010, there was a series of suicides at Foxconn's Shenzhen plant and a May explosion at the company's Chengdu, China plant which killed three people and injured 15. A New York Times story reported accidents, long hours, and crowded living conditions in Foxconn factories that were based on worker’s accounts.
Since 2006, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has been conducting its own audits of working conditions at factories where its gadgets are assembled and the company even took the additional step of joining FLA, a group of companies and universities focused on improving labor practices. Apple, the most valuable company in the world, is the first technology company to become a member.
Apple committed to have the FLA inspect its suppliers, who have pledged full cooperation. The FLA plans to interview thousands of employees at several Apple suppliers about working and living conditions. The audits will cover facilities where more than 90 percent of Apple products are assembled.
Consumer activism site Change.org gathered 200,000 signatures for a petition to ask Apple to protect workers around the time of new product releases, when the workload typically spikes. Activists hand delivered printouts of the signatures to Apple stores last week, but the group has stopped short of arranging protest gatherings or calling for a boycott.
Apple's sales have still continued to rise, even as working conditions at its suppliers draw more attention. From October to December 2011, the company sold 37 million iPhones, 15 million iPads and 15 million iPods.
In addition, investors keep bidding up the company's shares as Apple's stock reached above $500 for the first time Monday, giving the company a market capitalization of $465 billion.
Edited by Jamie Epstein