While protesters are targeting the Chinese Foxconn plants that make iPads and iPhones, the first report from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) indicates that they may want to start focusing their attention on other manufacturing plants. The comments were made in a Reuters article today highlighting an interview with the FLA's president.
As we've reported here on TUAW, the FLA has begun a study of working conditions at plants operated by Apple's top eight Chinese suppliers. FLA president Auret van Heerden noted after his initial visits to Foxconn plants that "The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm."
Although the study is just beginning and will also cover other Apple suppliers like Quanta Computer, Pegatron, and Wintek, van Heerden commented that "I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory. So the problems are not the intensity and burnout and pressure-cooker environment you have in a garment factory ... it's more a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."
Van Heerden noted that Apple is serious about changing the conditions in which workers build its products. "If Apple wanted to take the easy way out there were a whole host of options available to them. The fact that they joined the FLA shows they were really serious about raising their game."
About 35,000 workers will be interviewed anonymously, entering their responses onto iPads. Questions will ask about the hiring practices of the Apple contractor, conditions of dorm rooms and quality of food, whether complaints are acted upon, and the emotional well-being of the workers. An interim report will be made public in March, and the final FLA report will identify the areas where the suppliers need to make improvements.
The FLA was originally created in the early 1990s to try to improve working conditions in Chinese garment factories. The FLA has come under fire by some groups as being a pawn of the garment industry, although others say that the FLA has been effective in helping workers. How the group's recommendations will affect the workers who produce Apple products remains to be seen.