Apple has agreed to allow an independent investigation into its supply chain operations amid a raft of suicides and growing criticism over abuses of human rights at a production facility in China.
Thousands of factory workers at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, will be given the chance to talk about working conditions at the plant, which produces iPads and iPhones, as the Californian tech giant faces up to admonishment over the “human cost” of its devices.
The investigation will be conducted independently of both Apple and Foxconn by the Fair Labour Association, which was originally set up to stamp out sweatshops in the clothing industry more than a decade ago.
Critics have reported that workers at the Foxconn facility in Shenzhen, as well as those at another factory in Chengdu, are forced to endure long hours, harsh management and safety issues. In 2010 alone, 13 suicides were reported at the Shenzhen factory.
Employees of some Apple suppliers have previously complained of 10-hour shifts with only one permitted break, and of being forced to stand for so long that their legs swell. Last year, there were two fatal explosions at plants producing Apple products, including one caused by the ignition of dust released by the polishing of new iPads.
Apple does conduct annual audits of suppliers, but its own investigations have revealed numerous breaches at most of its suppliers.
The Fair Labour Association will ask employees about working and living conditions, including health and safety, pay and hours. It is expected to report its first findings later this month and Apple says that all workers will have the opportunity to speak freely and in confidence.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook said, “We believe workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we have asked the FLA to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers.
“The inspections now under way are unprecedented in the electronics industry.”