Following up on the news whirlwind that was the uncovering of false claims made in Mike Daisey's This American Life piece on conditions at Apple manufacturer Foxconn's factory in China, American Public Media's Marketplace program sent reporter Rob Schmitz to get a first hand look at what life was really like for workers. In the first report of his findings, Marketplace posted the video below of the iPad assembly line, showing how the tablet is made.
Schmitz's first installment brings a more balanced tone to the discussion on the conditions for workers at Foxconn. During several interviews outside the factory gates, he states that workers would often laugh at the stories reported here in America saying "it’s not really that bad." And, as shown in the video, despite consistent complaints about long hours, favoritism and unfair treatment from immediate supervisors and trouble getting paid for overtime, about 500 applicants lined up the day he was there, hoping for a job.
As one interviewee explains to Schmitz, conditions at Foxconn may not be perfect, but it's often much better than their livelihood in the remote villages where they've come from and people in the U.S. have trouble understanding that. The worker says "I think it’s useless for us to judge each others’ countries without truly understanding the realities on the ground."
Apple's CEO Tim Cook has stated that factory worker conditions are a top priority and it seems the company is backing that up, allowing third party auditors to look into conditions as well as the NRDC, but Apple is far from getting a gold star. The company still has many environmental issues to clear up.
Last year, five Chinese environmental NGOs performed a seven-month study and found that as many as 27 suppliers to Apple are guilty of pollution problems, including producing huge quantities of waste that are not properly handled, leading to complaints from local communities. As our own Jaymi Heimbuch reported then, the list of complaints include "polluted water flowing directly to the Yangtze River, water so contaminated it is not fit for any purpose, foul-smelling gasses so strong they even wake people up at night and cause headaches and nosebleeds, a village of 50 residents next to a factory of which nine people have developed cancer, and of course the infamous explosion at a Foxconn plant that killed three this past May." According to the investigators, Apple never responded to any of the violations reported.
So while it's good to see the curtain being lifted on worker conditions at Apple's factories and the issues there being taken seriously, the tech giant still has a lot of work to do on the environmental side of its manufacturing process.