Apple bowed to public criticism and called for voluntary inspections of its supply chain, in a move to bolster its reputation as its labor practices draw scrutiny.
Apple asked the Fair Labor Association to inspect its controversial Foxconn factory in Chengdu, China, along with 90 percent of its supply chain.
The company is trying to create transparency and regain credibility following a flurry of reports about the poor quality of life for its overseas factory workers. Apple’s FLA request comes on the heels of large-scale protests organized on Change.org and other online activist groups.
Apple is heeding consumer demands to preserve its standing as a quality-focused corporation. Foxconn protestors found Apple culpable of willful neglect of Foxconn employees, painting the company’s values as profit-oriented regardless of the human cost.
Complaints against Foxconn include hazardous working conditions and mistreatment of workers, and protestors allege Apple knew about the problems but turned a blind eye.
The company’s decision to undergo audits despite soaring sales success underscores its concern over these accusations. Apple is likely to take a more proactive stance to prevent further damaging incidents, and to put forth more effort monitoring media reports to head off another public relations disaster.
“We believe that workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we’ve asked the FLA to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “The inspections now underway are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports.”
Even if the Chinese factories improve, Apple faces other well-publicized complaints over its overseas labor practices. President Obama is trying to bring Apple’s jobs back to the U.S. The president is working on incentives to lure tech companies back to the U.S., and Apple is liable to face criticism if the company resists government efforts to reroute jobs.
Apple’s request for audits is a shrewd move to repair the company’s public image. The company’s willingness to solve its supply chain problem indicates a growing trend towards increased corporate responsibility in response to Internet activism, whether corporate conscience or concern for reputation spurs the changes.