Apple announced on Monday that it was asking the nonprofit Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate the reportedly hazardous working conditions at the Foxconn manufacturing plants in China, where many Apple gadgets are made. CEO Tim Cook's call comes after a detailed exposé in The New York Times and a nationally syndicated story on NPR, both spotlighting brutal working conditions in the Chinese factories — from relentless 12-hour, seven-day-a-week shifts to awful wages to a hauntingly high number of suicides. Do Cook and Apple deserve credit for stepping up?
Give Apple credit: A third-party investigation is "exactly what the doctor ordered," says Dave Smith at the International Business Times. Under former CEO Steve Jobs, one of Apple's more unsettling traits was its ability to "distort reality," oftentimes "spinning negative news into positive news and positive news into extraordinary news." Cook understands that in this case, "his company could not come clean if it didn't look for outside help." That level-headedness is an asset, and "that's why Apple, and all Apple users, should thank Tim Cook."
"Apple approves Foxconn investigation: Why Tim Cook deserves credit"
But it's not nearly enough: The "good news" is that Apple is finally taking action, says Wayne Rash at eWeek. The "bad news" is that Chinese workers are unlikely to see improvement anytime soon. Even if violations are found, there isn't much Apple can do. There's "little in the way" of actual enforcement mechanisms. The sad truth is that once the inspection results are revealed on FLA's website, "Foxconn will revert to business as usual."
"Foxconn inspections are good PR, but Apple needs to protect workers"
And the problem is bigger than Apple and Foxconn: "This is about economics," says John Biggs at TechCrunch. Sure, Apple is sending in the FLA to investigate. But cheap labor is the reason China's economy is exploding, and "what Shenzen makes, the world takes." Once the smoke clears, these factories will revert to their horrible conditions, and Apple will continue to sell truckloads of iPads. This isn't a Foxconn-only problem — it's the whole manufacturing industry. This probe merely (and ineffectively) inspects "the canopy of the tree while ignoring the disease-infested trunk."
"False alarm: Why the Apple/Foxconn debacle clouds the real manufacturing mess"