I was skeptical when Apple chose the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate conditions in its supplier factories. The FLA is paid by the companies whose factories it monitors, and it’s just hard to bite the hand that’s feeding you. A truly independent monitor, one with no financial dependence on Apple, would be the right choice if Apple really wanted the public to trust its motives and any eventual exoneration of its suppliers.
Well, we didn’t have to wait long. The head of the FLA has apparently exonerated first, with full investigation to follow. Steven Greenhouse reports in the New York Times that barely after the investigation has begun, FLA’s president, Auret van Heerden, has declared the factories of Apple’s biggest supplier, Foxconn, “first-class” and said, “Foxconn is really not a sweatshop.”
These precipitous assertions are beyond troubling; they suggest FLA is not proceeding in a fair, systematic and serious manner to uncover the reality of the work conditions.
It might be time for Apple’s board of directors to take a close look at an approach that may protect Apple’s brand, but will not protect Apple’s workers. Rather than stick with what may simply turn out to be a public relations whitewash, they might want to find someone who will do an independent unbiased investigation and tell them the truth about conditions in Apple’s factories.