Apple on Foxconn: We’re Doing Better, See?!

Apple won a small reprieve on the matter of its biggest PR problem this week as the Fair Labor Association announced that the tech giant has slightly improved conditions at its now-infamous Foxconn plants in mainland China. The catch? Auditors stress that “the toughest tasks lay ahead.”

Prodded into action by pressure over a series of not-quite-positive stories in The New York Times, Apple has taken some steps to improve its standing among global labor advocates by reducing hours, raising wages and, apparently, improving general work conditions from “suicide-inducing” to “somehow tolerable!”

This is what we call progress. But it’s not like Apple really had a choice in the matter.

The FLA, of which Apple is inexplicably a member, waved a big regulatory finger in the company’s face earlier this year by accusing them of subjecting entry-level workers in China to inhuman hours and cramped, extremely stark living conditions.

So Apple complied and showed its new face to the FLA’s auditors, who announced this week that the company has held to its modest promises and even begun offering employees allowances for food and housing if they choose to live “off-campus.” The response among Foxconn folk has been mixed: Many took to China’s microblog networks to express concern that their salaries would be slashed along with their total hours. We can’t blame them.

We might ask whether this development will improve Apple’s reputation for stiffing its employees, but we think we’ll go with the more appropriate question: Does anyone really care? Did this story ever prevent a single person from purchasing a Macbook or an iPad? We doubt it. (By the way, Foxconn also makes products for Dell, Sony and Hewlett-Packard.) This is the world in which we live.