The crew of ABC News “Nightline” was given exclusive access by Apple to investigate two Chinese factories of the giant Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, where the bulk of Apple’s iPad and iPhone devices are assembled, along with devices from leading competitors Sony, Amazon and HP.
Apple invited Nightline to the plants amidst a flood of negative PR, following multiple suicides by workers at the factories in 2010 and more recent reports of inhumane and dangerous working conditions.
Facing increasing online and physical protests from workers’ rights advocates, Apple on February 13 announced it had commissioned a third-party audit of by a trade group, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), to review the factories. Within a day of beginning the audit, the association’s president called the facilities “way above the average of the norm” for China.
The Nightline episode appears to be another part of Apple’s strategy to rehabilitate its image, as ABC News reporter Bill Weir admits it was “around this time when Apple called me.”
“They wondered if “Nightline” was interested in seeing their iPhone, iPad and MacBook final assembly lines at Foxconn during a first-ever audit by the Fair Labor Association,” Weir explained.
On Tuesday night, Nightline aired the 30-minute special episode of its tour of the factories, hosted by Weir. The episode was posted online in full on Wednesday.
“After this trip, I’ll never see an Apple product the same way again,” said Weir in a teaser video of his tour of Foxconn’s factories in the Chinese cities Shenzhen and Chengdu.
However, from the early reviews of gadget bloggers, it seems as though Nightline’s tour of Foxconn has revealed little in the way of new information about how the company treats its workforce and how much Apple has to do with it.
“You would think that this ‘unprecedented’ look inside Apple factories would reveal much we didn’t know, but the show was relatively light on information,” commented The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky.
“What the exposé touched on, but ended before it could satisfy, was truly getting inside the workers’ heads,” said Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle and Michael Hession.
That said, when a Foxconn executive was asked if the company would like it if Apple insisted it double its pay for workers, the executive said “Why not?”
Foxconn on Friday announced it was raising worker pay 16 to 25 percent, the first time since June 2010. Junior workers will now receive 1,800 yuan ($290) per month.
Nightline’s report also came ahead of the latest allegation of Foxconn’s unethical labor practices: The fact that underage workers, around 16 or 17-years-old, reportedly had their hours slashed or were transferred to other departments specifically to avoid being included the Fair Labor Association’s audit, according to the Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, as AppleInsider reported.
Correction: This story originally referred to the suicides that took place at Foxconn’s Chinese factories as “mass suicides,” when, in fact, the more accurate term is “multiple suicides,” as many of the workers took their own lives individually.