The news that the Chinese workers who pump out Apple's iPads and iPhones suffer fairly awful working conditions gets a new and very long look in today's New York Times, in an article sourced from Apple's own audits of its suppliers, along with interviews with some 40 current and ex-employees. The Times begins by recounting the real human cost: Poisonous chemicals and explosions have injured more than 200 in the last two years, and killed four. And though current and former Apple execs say the company has focused on improving factories and issued a supplier code of conduct in 2005, more than 50% of the hundreds of suppliers Apple has audited in the last four years have violated at least one part of that code, according to Apple's own reports.
Though suppliers who don't fix these violations within 90 days are supposed to be booted, former execs admit that there's a real time and expense burden involved in finding new suppliers. To wit, only 15 suppliers have gotten the ax since 2007, they say. According to the code, work weeks are to be capped at 60 hours: But the Times reviewed Foxconn pay stubs that show 12-hour days, six days a week; some workers are reportedly forced to stand for so long their legs swell and their walk turns into a waddle. Apple audits also found 15-year-old employees, falsified records, pay being withheld as punishment, and toxic chemical exposure, among other violations. Apple says things are changing for the better: It noted "performance improvements" in reaudited factories, for instance. But consumers aren't clamoring for change (a November Times poll found that only 2% of those surveyed were bothered by its labor practices abroad), and many say the company is ignoring the problems. "They don’t want to pre-empt problems, they just want to avoid embarrassments," says one former consultant for Apple. Click to read the entire piece. (Read more Apple stories.)