Maybe it’s a cynical attempt at damage control. Maybe it’s a recognition that the rising tide of demonstrations and bad publicity reflects a real shift in people’s willingness to ignore the social costs of the products they buy. Maybe it’s just that new Apple CEO Tim Cook is proving to be more of a softy than Steve Jobs was. (Certainly it wasn’t my blog post and on-air commentary about these issues a couple of weeks ago.)
Whatever the reasons, Apple and its major supplier Foxconn have made some perhaps significant changes in their corporate practices in the past couple of weeks.
Under fire for reports of harsh working conditions, long hours, and environmental violations at the plants of some of its suppliers, Apple last week made good on its pledge of January and started allowing independent auditors to inspect facilities and interview workers at suppliers like Foxconn.
Just a few days later Foxconn, which runs a massive and controversial Chinese assembly plant for Apple and other leading tech companies, announced it was raising its workers’ salaries by up to 25%.
Now this week word comes from Chinese activists that Apple will start allowing independent environmental reviews of at least two of its suppliers there.
It remains to be seen whether these moves will result in real improvements—the complaints of Foxconn workers reportedly go way beyond pay, and many have questioned the independence and effectiveness of the Fair Labor Association, which is doing the inspections of working conditions.
But they’re at least an implicit pledge of change, and they almost invite an even brighter spotlight on what’s until recently been the largely dark backstory behind Apple’s glistening products, and those of the rest of the industry.
I tossed out that old cliche “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” in my last post on this story. But just because it’s a cliche doesn’t mean it’s not true. A little more sunshine does seem to be having a stimulative, if perhaps not yet cleansing, effect on Apple and its biggest supplier.