Apple responded quickly to a rash of worker suicides at the Foxconn facility that fabricates many of its products, according to the company’s annual supplier responsibility review.
As detailed in the 2011 Progress Report, Apple claims it launched a high-level investigation into the 12 suicide attempts that took place at Foxconn throughout the first half of 2010. The facility also manufactures products for Dell, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard, which also promised last summer they would look into factory conditions workers faced.
“Two leading experts accompanied Apple COO Tim Cook and other Apple executives on a visit to the Shenzhen factory in June 2010,” reads the report. “This group met with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou and members of his senior staff to better understand the conditions of the site and to assess the emergency measures Foxconn was putting in place to prevent more suicides.”
Apple claims it commissioned an independent “team of suicide-prevention experts” to survey Foxconn workers about their quality of life, a process that apparently involved interviewing those workers separately from their managers, as well as reviewing the factory’s living conditions.
“The independent team suggested several areas for improvement, such as better training of hotline staff and care center counselors and better monitoring to ensure effectiveness,” the report continues. “Foxconn incorporated the team’s specific recommendations into their long-term plans for addressing employee well-being.”
Those plans include the start up of an EAP (employee assistance program) apparently focused on social-support networks and “maintaining employee mental health.”
Apple’s annual review uncovered a number of suppliers in violation of the company’s code of conduct. Some 76 facilities, for example, exceeded Apple’s weekly working-hour limits “more than 50 percent of the time,” while another 95 violated policies related to administrative controls. Another 64 facilities violated engineering controls, running machines with missing safety devices or that were improperly maintained. About 37 facilities failed to monitor and control air emissions, and 54 facilities “did not have a company statement on social and environmental responsibility that covered all categories of Apple’s Code.”
Apple’s audits also brought to light some 91 cases of underage workers. “We intensified our search for underage labor in 2010,” Apple claims the report, “interviewing more workers and further scrutinizing recruiting practices, employment records and worker IDs, especially where third-party labor agencies and schools were involved.”
Throughout 2010, Apple completed first-time audits of 97 facilities and repeat audits of another 30, for an apparent total of 288 supplier facilities audited since 2007. The company’s stated goals include preventing the hiring of underage workers, protecting the rights of immigrant workers, and mapping the use of potential conflict minerals such as tantalum and tungsten.
“Foxconn is not a sweatshop,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs told conference goers at the All Things Digital conference in 2010, according to published reports. “You go in this place and it’s a factory but, my gosh, they’ve got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools. For a factory, it’s pretty nice.”
Following last summer’s rash of suicides, Foxconn announced it would raise wages at the factory an average of 20 percent, even as it faced additional pressure from the Chinese government to address the situation and the worldwide media attention resulting from it.