The Fair Labor Association (FLA), a watchdog that monitors working conditions at makers of Apple Inc products, has uncovered “tonnes of issues” that need to be addressed at a Foxconn Technology Group (富士康科技集團) plant in Shenzhen, China, FLA chief executive officer Auret van Heerden said.
Van Heerden made the comments in a telephone interview after a multiday inspection of the factory. Apple, the first technology company to join the association, said on Monday that it asked the Washington-based nonprofit organization to inspect plants owned by three of its largest manufacturing partners.
“We are finding tonnes of issues,” van Heerden said en route to a meeting where association inspectors were scheduled to present preliminary findings to Foxconn management. “I believe we are going to see some very significant announcements in the near future.”
He declined to elaborate on the findings. The association plans to release more information about its inspection in the coming weeks. By then, the company will have had a chance to contest or agree to steps to prevent further violations.
“Foxconn is cooperating fully with this audit and we will review and act on all findings and recommendations,” Foxconn said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “This is a very professional and thorough review and any deficiencies the FLA might find in the implementation of customer or Foxconn policies will be addressed.”
Apple spokesman Steve Dowling referred to a company statement about the audits issued on Monday.
Van Heerden said in an interview published on Wednesday that Foxconn’s plants were “first class.” He said he was surprised “how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory.”
Heather White, the founder of Verite, another monitoring group, said that many alleged violations can be hard to detect.
Apple has commissioned the association to conduct smaller projects over the past two years, to try out some of the inspection techniques employed by the group to more effectively root out workplace problems.
Van Heerden said he had been impressed with Apple and Foxconn’s responses to hazards related to the polishing of aluminum, which led to explosions at Foxconn and another Apple supplier, Pegatron Corp (和碩), that killed at least three workers and injured more than 70 people last year. Van Heerden said that Apple researched the problem and hired a respected consultant.
Van Heerden said that association’s 30-person inspection team would interview 35,000 Foxconn employees via meetings with small groups of randomly picked workers, chosen to reflect the demographics of the campus in terms of age, gender and skill levels. As part of the process, workers log answers to questions on tablets connected to association servers so they can be tabulated.
White, who is also a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, said group meetings on Foxconn’s premises might not yield honest responses. She said that she found it more productive to talk to workers in their homes or other off-site locations.
“It is very hard to get people to speak openly about very serious issues,” she said.