America's ABC News got an exclusive visit to Foxconn's assembly lines for Apple's range of products, during the first-ever audit by the Fair Labor Association (FLA). Apple joined the FLA last month and is paying the group to conduct an audit of the labor conditions at Foxconn. Apple granted ABC News' 'Nightline' complete access, including interviews with factory workers. While we won't be able to watch the TV programme here in Singapore, Nightline has a written preface about their visit inside Foxconn's factory.
One begs the question of how real a pre-planned media visit could be, FLA president Auret van Heerden admitted to Nightline that he expected Foxconn to "put on a show":
"I expect them to put on a show for us," van Heerden says. "That's normal with every factory you go to, even if it's just the time that it takes you to get from the gate to the factory floor, there's always fifteen or twenty minutes of protocol to get in there. The special equipment comes out, they put the ear plugs in, they put the masks on, and they can transform a factory in twenty minutes, so we expect that.
But FLA hopes to circumvent that with their bottom-up audit approach, with 35,000 Foxconn workers going through an anonymous questionnaire:
"Some of them certainly do say what the boss wants them to say," auditor Ines Kaempfer tells me, "but the great thing about this survey is that we have such a big sample that you really always have workers who say what they're really thinking. Rather than the more traditional survey, where you ask 15 workers, you ask them face to face; they don't dare to say anything. And here, many of them feel quite protected. Because it's a big group, there's no way their boss can know what they were saying."
Working conditions inside the factory, no matter how pristine, are bleak - as you'd imagine any factory work to be. Workers report doing mind-numbing, repetitive work, intense competition for jobs, low wages and crowded rooms. Read more about Nightline's visit over at ABC News and catch the preview below.