Apple calls in the inspectors after admitting human rights problem

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The Independent Online

Thousands of Chinese factory workers will be given the chance to detail the punishing conditions on assembly lines producing Apple iPads and iPhones after the US company bowed to criticism and agreed to allow independent inspections of its supply chain.

Facing a growing scandal over the working conditions of those making its gadgets, Apple has called in assessors from the same organisation that was set up to stamp out sweatshops in the clothing industry a decade ago. The move is an admission that Apple's own system of monitoring has failed to stamp out abuses.

But campaigners for Chinese workers immediately criticised the company for conducting a public-relations exercise instead of actually alleviating the long hours, harsh management and safety problems which have driven some workers to suicide and led to fatal accidents.

Inspectors from the Fair Labour Association started work yesterday at the Foxconn factory near the booming southern city of Shenzhen, where iPads are made. In 2010, a spate of 13 suicides or attempted suicides at that factory first turned the spotlight on the companies Apple uses to build its devices. Another Foxconn factory in Chengdu will also be inspected, Apple said.

"We believe workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment," said Apple's chief executive, Tim Cook.

Apple's decision to call in the FLA comes after a new round of exposés of conditions at its suppliers. Apple has come under fire for building a consumer electronics powerhouse on the backs of exploited workers, many of whom earn as little as 30p an hour. Employees of some suppliers complain of 10-hour shifts with only one break. Last year, there were two fatal explosions at plants producing Apple goods.

The FLA will ask employees about working and living conditions, including health and safety, pay and hours.

Yesterday, the the campaign group China Labour Watch dismissed Apple's commitment to independent inspections as a publicity stunt. "We already know what the conditions are like in the factories," said Fan Yuan, a China Labour Watch activist. "What Apple needs to do right now is take action to solve the problems."