Apple is responding to criticism about the conditions of its factories in China, as the manufacturer unveiled a list of major suppliers and reviewed their operation.
The Cupertino, Calif.-based company joined the Fair Labor Association, and allowed outsiders to perform 229 audits last year, an 80 percent increase over its 2009 audits. Apple looked over all areas of production from the different levels of the supply chain to the assembly line and component suppliers.
“Apple requires our suppliers to uphold the human rights of workers and treat them with dignity and respect,” said the association in the audit report. “Apple’s efforts in this area also include the prevention of involuntary labor, underage labor, and excessive working hours, and the use of conflict-free minerals.”
Based on these requirements, Apple’s Foxconn factory is a repeat offender. Analysts often bring attention to the plant’s poor working conditions and some alleged poor treatment of workers led to a string of suicides in 2010.
Apple said it found several more violations in the 156 companies on its audit list, from underage labor to excessive work hours. While audits are a good start to making a change, Apple said it now plans to submit itself and its component parts makers in China to the full criteria of the FLA to help fix the problems it uncovered.
Apple hopes to set a standard for other technology companies with its efforts to clean up working conditions in China, but the company is likely being fueled by how much it has to lose in the country. In addition to being the home of all Apple’s manufacturing, China has emerged over the past two years as the company’s fastest growing market of consumers.
Last week, police ordered Apple not to open its Beijing retail store after crowds for the iPhone 4S launch grew so large, authorities feared for the safety of the citizens and workers.
Apple may be putting forth a strong effort to fix working conditions for thousands of factory employees because it’s the right thing to do, but taking the heat off of the company in China and the U.S, two of its biggest markets, doesn’t hurt either.