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Inside the iPod factory

Apple has sent a team to investigate working conditions in the Chinese iPod plant owned by Hon Hai Precision Industry, following accusations of malpractice in a newspaper.

The audit concluded that the factory adhered to most elements of Apple's supplier code of conduct, but uncovered a number of concerns, among them the revelation that workers were putting in working weeks of more than 60 hours a third of the time. Apple has promised to enforce a "normal" 60-hour week in future, and to introduce audits of other iPod plants.

No evidence of enforced or child labour was reported, and it was found that wages corresponded to the local minimum or more – although the local minimum wage was not mentioned. It is to be assumed that the figure is not excessive. Isolated incidents in which workers were made to stand to attention as a form of punishment also featured in the audit.

Many working groups have criticised the investigation for interviewing only a small cross-section of workers and for ignoring important aspects of the treatment of employees, such as the entitlement to unionise. Perhaps we should be grateful that working conditions in China are being addressed at all, but the sense remains that Apple is trying to put a positive spin on what is hardly a glowing recommendation of the factory's practices.

The 32,000 staff that live at the plant sleep in large dormitories, some of which were originally designed to serve as factories, an arrangement the report refers to as "too impersonal". In one dorm the workers slept in triple bunks. The report in The Mail On Sunday that started the whole business claimed staff earned as little as £27 a month – a figure that Apple, which announced revenue of $4.37bn in its last quarterly statement, does not deny in the report. The audit, one feels, has not reached the heart of the matter.

Just a little food for thought the next time you fire up your nano.

The full report is here.

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