Here’s What Working Conditions At Chinese Electronics Plants Are Really Like [Exclusive Interview]

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Adapted from CC-licensed photo by Mrbill on Flicker.
Adapted from CC-licensed photo by Mrbill on Flicker.

If you own an iPhone, laptop, Kindle, Android device, electric toothbrush, baby monitor or GPS navigator, it was probably put together by a worker in a Chinese factory.

Although Apple is currently juggling the PR hot-potato over working conditions at Foxconn plants in China, a situation made more murky by the factual takedown of Mike Daisey’s monologue, dozens of other global companies make their must-have electronics there.

For a wider perspective, Cult of Mac tracked down one of the world’s leading experts on modern labor in Asia.

Dr. Boy Lüthje is a sociologist at the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research and currently a visiting scholar at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii who has spent a decade visiting factories to study working conditions at electronics manufacturers in Asia, including Foxconn.

Foxconn Employees Say Underage Workers Were Hidden Before FLA Inspection

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iOS devices could get their own manufacturing plants as they continue to grow in popularity.
iOS devices could get their own manufacturing plants as they continue to grow in popularity.

Employees at Foxconn factories in China claim that the company hid underage workers during the recent inspection by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) so that they would not be discovered, according to the organization Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).

Fair Labor Association President Says Foxconn Factory Worker Conditions Are Much Better Than Actual Sweatshops

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As most recently referenced in Tim Cook’s comments on worker safety at Goldman Sachs yesterday, Apple is spending a lot of effort in 2012 trying to solve allegations of abuse in their supply chain. This initiative has most recently culminated in Apple going to the unprecedented step of asking the Fair Labor Association to audit their factories.

The FLA’s report isn’t due until March, but already, the Fair Labor Association’s president Auret van Heerden has spoken out, saying that at first blush, Foxconn’s facilities appear to be “first-class” in comparison to the garment factories the association usually monitors.

Apple: Fair Labor Association Will Prove We’re Committed To Ending Worker Abuse

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iOS devices could get their own manufacturing plants as they continue to grow in popularity.
iOS devices could get their own manufacturing plants as they continue to grow in popularity.

Following claims that it isn’t doing enough to end worker mistreatment in Chinese factories, Apple has publicly asked the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to “conduct special voluntary audits of Apple’s final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China.”

The FLA acknowledged Apple’s request almost immediately and began its first inspections at a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen this morning. Apple will be hoping that the FLA’s report puts the allegations that it is not doing all it can to bed and proves that working conditions are improving thanks to the company’s work.