Apple supplier auditors send mixed messages about Foxconn


It’s been less than a week since Apple sent independent auditors to evaluate its third-party factories in China. The auditors have publicly given hints about what they’re finding, but aren’t getting into specifics. On Friday, the Fair Labor Association, the labor rights group Apple joined recently, told Bloomberg that it is finding “tons of issues” at Foxconn factories. But they had earlier praised the facilities themselves.

Here’s what the head auditor said Friday:

“We’re finding tons of issues,” [FLA CEO Auret] van Heerden said en route to a meeting where FLA inspectors were scheduled to present preliminary findings to Foxconn management. “I believe we’re going to see some very significant announcements in the near future.”

Doesn’t sound good, right? Except we don’t know exactly what those issues are — the head auditor doesn’t define “issues.” Are they major violations of health and safety? Or are they more minor things that Apple and Foxconn could work to fix quickly? It seems like the FLA is holding back on specifics for an official announcement of its findings in the next few weeks.

The “tons of issues” comment does seem somewhat at odds with what the same auditors said earlier this week. On Wednesday they gave this slightly more positive — but still vague — description to Reuters: “The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm.”

“Way above average” could be good, or it could still mean conditions that would shock the average iPhone or iPad owner. Apple has been trying to drive this point home themselves — that they are improving how Chinese electronics factories operate — in its public relations messaging on the uproar over Foxconn’s factories. On Tuesday Apple CEO Tim Cook opened his (extremely rare) public Q&A with investors by talking about the ways Apple is trying to improve its supplier factories: “In terms of problems that we are working to fix, you can read the details on our website. But I would tell you that no one in our industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple.”

The FLA reportedly will publish its findings, after Foxconn has had a chance to respond to the reported violations.

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