Handbooks of Research on International Political Economy series
Edited by Anthony Payne and Nicola Phillips
Chapter 19: Leveraging private governance for public purpose: business, civil society and the state in labour regulation
For years Apple, perhaps the world's most iconic brand, appeared largely unresponsive to pressures to improve pay and working conditions of the Chinese labourers who assembled its wildly profitable iPod, iPhone and iPad products. Despite several exposés about treatment of workers in its supplier's Chinese factories, including extensive publicity of an apparent epidemic of suicides in 2010 at the plant producing the iPhone, Apple suffered no apparent commercial harm. In fairness, Apple, like virtually all modern corporations, had long stated its commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and had conducted internal audits of many of its suppliers, but Apple resisted calls for disclosure of its audits or for third-party monitoring of its factories. As of August 2011, according to a long-time Beijing-based observer of business in China, Apple remained 'completely unfazed' by the pressures, including the negative publicity about the suicides. In the first three months of 2012, however, Foxconn, the Taiwanese-based electronics manufacturer that operates Apple's major assembly operations in China, announced significant wage increases, opened its factories to a camera crew from ABC's Nightline and brought in the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to conduct an audit of working conditions. At the end of March, when the FLA released its report, Apple and Foxconn openly admitted to non-compliance with China's labour laws and jointly announced their commitment to respond with major changes in working conditions and wages.
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