Fair Trade Electronics: The Recent, Promising Events around Working Conditions in Apple's Factories Are Hopefully Leading toward a New Definition of "Shareholder Value."

Article excerpt

EARLIER THIS YEAR, Apple Inc. made an announcement that has potentially significant ramifications for the technology marketplace.

No, I am not referring to the iBooks 2/ iBooks Author announcement. I'm talking about the Apple decision to enlist the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to inspect the foreign factories where their products are made, specifically the Foxconn factories in Shenzhen, China, that have been the focus of much criticism of late (including my editorial on the topic last November, thejournal.com/tco).

Not that the FLA decision didn't meet with its own criticism. Almost as soon as Apple made the announcement, there were new voices of concern about the impartiality of the president of the FLA, Auret van Heerden, who, according to several news reports including The New York Times, said Foxconn's "facilities are first class" and "Foxconn is really not a sweatshop." As Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, said in the same Times article, "Generally, in a labor rights investigation, the findings come after the evidence is gathered, not the other way around."

In spite of, or maybe because of, the inappropriateness of van Heerden's remark, within a week or so, Foxconn announced that it was raising worker wages between 16 and 25 percent.

Do I think that these events are promising? I actually do. Even though Apple is by no means the only company that uses factories with working conditions that we would find unconscionable in this country, it is the only company, to my mind, that can lead the way toward some measure of justice for the people who build our electronics products. …