Sam Gurney: It's too little, too late – but it still offers hope of a better future

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Apple's decision to investigate the working conditions at its factories in China is long overdue, and more work is needed to ensure meaningful change.

The company cannot claim to have been ignorant of the conditions in the places that assembled its goods – the incredibly long shifts and the dangerous working conditions, to name a couple.

These conditions have been apparent for many years, and yet little has been done. We would all like to think Apple is now acting because it feels it should, but the reality is that this would not have happened without the pressure brought on it by campaigners and consumers.

Large multinationals like Apple are incredibly concerned about their brand and reputation, so highlighting the inhumane conditions in its factories has a powerful effect. It is encouraging to see that as the electronics industry has grown, so too has the pressure from people who buy its products to ensure they are ethically sourced.

It took many years for the movement against the use of sweatshops in the textile industry to gather pace and become a real force. Today, a similar movement for the electronics industry is finding its voice. The pressure on Apple has built to the stage where it has to take the allegations against it seriously.

What matters now is how it responds. Everyone knows that audits are not enough – there is an entire industry devoted to getting around them. The only way to improve the conditions is to involve the workers themselves and ask: how can we make things more tolerable?

Apple should be encouraging its suppliers to allow independent worker organisation and unions in their factories; experience has shown that this method produces results. These companies should strive to make working conditions not merely tolerable, but decent. This is a basic human right, so it shouldn't be too much to ask of one of the world's biggest and most profitable brands.

Sam Gurney is Policy Officer in the TUC's European Union and International Relations Department, specialising in international labour standards.

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