Firm Inspecting Apple Supplier Facilities in China

Apple announced Monday that an independent team of labor rights experts has begun voluntary audits of the company's China based suppliers. These companies, which build all of Apple's products, have been the target of recent outrages over widespread, years-long worker abuses.

It's a bit unclear how much more stringent these audits will be when compared to Apple's earlier, much-criticized audits. The organization conducting the audits, the Fair Labor Association, has only one technology-based corporate member, Apple, and that's a recent addition. And since the audits are voluntary, some "final assembly suppliers"--i.e. the builders of Apple's products, might prevent auditors from visiting certain sites.

That said, some of the biggest human rights abusers, including Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China, are apparently being audited. One might expect the resulting reports to be somewhat eye-opening, given recent news stories about factory conditions, worker abuses, and employee suicides.

Shenzhen is referred to as "Foxconn City" in China. The company employs 230,000 workers in that city alone. It employs over 1 million workers in China overall.

Apple says the FLA will interview thousands of employees about working and living conditions at the suppliers' facilities. They will inspect manufacturing areas, dormitories and other facilities, and will conduct an extensive review of documents related to procedures at all stages of employment, according to Apple.

The FLA will post its findings and recommendations in early March, Apple says.

With Apple's heady margins, profits, and revenues, some are beginning to ask why the company can't afford to build its products in the United States. Large car makers from Europe, including BMW and Volkswagen, build vehicles in the US, for example.

And of course Apple isn't the only company building all or some of its products in China. Companies such as Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and many others have products assembled by Foxconn, Quanta, Pegatron, and other similar companies  in China. But Apple is of course the biggest of these companies by far.

Apple's stock coincidentally hit a record $500 on Monday.

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