Independent group starts inspecting Apple suppliers in China

Sarah Ryan, left, and Shelby Knox of Change.org deliver petitions to an Apple store in New York last week. The petitions ask Apple to address criticism of working conditions at factories of the company’s manufacturing partners operating in China. 

Associated Press

Sarah Ryan, left, and Shelby Knox of Change.org deliver petitions to an Apple store in New York last week. The petitions ask Apple to address criticism of working conditions at factories of the company’s manufacturing partners operating in China. 

NEW YORK — Apple said Monday that an independent group, the Fair Labor Association, has started inspecting working conditions in the Chinese factories where its iPads and iPhones are assembled.

Amid growing criticism over labor and environmental practices — especially in China— Apple last month disclosed a list of suppliers for its popular gadgets for the first time.

The FLA team began the inspections Monday morning at Foxconn City in Shenzhen, China, Apple said Monday. The complex employs and houses hundreds of thousands of workers.

Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., employs an estimated 1 million to 1.1 million people in China at a series of huge factory campuses. Foxconn assembles iPads and iPhones for Apple, Xbox 360 gaming consoles for Microsoft and other gadgets for companies including Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

In 2010, there was a rash of suicides at Foxconn's Shenzhen plant. Plant managers installed nets to prevent more people from committing suicide by jumping from the roof. A May explosion at the company's Chengdu, China, plant killed three people and injured 15. A New York Times article published Jan. 26 reported on accidents and long hours in Foxconn factories, based on workers' accounts. Foxconn disputed allegations of back-to-back shifts and crowded living conditions.

Apple has been conducting its own audits of working conditions at factories where its gadgets are assembled since 2006. A month ago, it took the additional step of joining Washington-based FLA, a group of companies and universities focused on improving labor practices.

Apple, the first technology company to become a member, committed at the time 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.

The FLA's findings and recommendations will begin to be posted on www.fairlabor.org in early March.

Consumer activism site Change.org gathered 200,000 signatures for a petition asking Apple to protect workers around the time of new product releases, when the workload spikes.

Stock price milestone

Apple's stock traded above $500 for the first time Monday and closed the day at $502.60 a share. It was the latest step in a rally that began more than two weeks ago, when the company reported quarterly net income of $13.06 billion, more than doubling its profits from the year before. Sales for the quarter were $46.3 billion, up 73 percent from a year earlier. Apple and Exxon Mobil have been trading the position of most valuable company in the world since last summer, but the latest rally has made Apple 17 percent more valuable than the oil company. Its market capitalization is now $465 billion, compared with Exxon's $400 billion.

Independent group starts inspecting Apple suppliers in China 02/13/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 13, 2012 9:26pm]

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