There Are No Quick Fixes for Apple's Foxconn Problem

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Even with a formal statement from CEO Tim Cook, its own internal inspections and now an independent audit by the Fair Labor Association, Apple can't appease critics of the working conditions at Foxconn where it manufactures its iProducts. Apple's latest effort  sounds promising enough: the gadget company has enlisted an organization founded by anti-sweat shop groups hoping to improve overseas abuses. But, to some, it looks like more of a PR play than action. "The Fair Labor Association is largely a fig leaf," Jeff Ballinger, director of Press for Change, a labor rights group told The New York Times's Steven Greenhouse. And Stinebrickner-Kauffman of called it a "decent step at best" and a "whitewashing campaign at worst." The company can't really take any steps at this point, short of making its stuff stateside, that will fix its Foxconn problems because this isn't the type of problem with quick fixes.

Any move Apple makes will look like less-than-genuine public relations disaster control at this point. In part, because that's what Apple is doing. Its monster profits in context of Foxconn's low wages and bad working conditions made the company look like even more of a monster. So Apple publicly acknowledged the scandal, made its factory inspections public and just yesterday put out a very visible press release for this new FLA effort. It wants America to know it's trying, which can come off as nothing more than a gesture. 

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But even if it's not a gesture, Apple has an issue: Its moves can only look empty. This Foxconn situation -- and not just Apple's reputation -- isn't so fixable. Before this round of Foxconn-gate, Apple had tried dealing with it, sanctioning no-suicide pacts, new 24-hour psychological services and suicide nets. Six months later, the working conditions still don't meet American approval. Even if this fresh round of audits finds some kind of awful in there, what happens after that? "Audits are truly a tool used by retailers in the US to make themselves seem to be socially compliant, but in fact does nothing to ensure factories are acting appropriately," Sindy Sagastume, production manager for a fashion company called Aimee Lynn told Gadget Lab's Christina Bonnington. 

And even if Apple discovers some atrocities, as we learned from The New York Times Foxconn report, making iGadgets requires the type of labor force willing to put up with said conditions. "You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards," an Apple executive told the Times. If not Foxconn, somewhere else. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.