Apple has spent some time in the negative spotlight around the actions (or lack of actions) of its suppliers in the area of worker health and safety. Even recent coverage, such as the NYT story that describes in gory detail the results of an explosion at a Foxconn facility that tore apart the face of a college-educated technician working on equipment used in the manufacturing of iPads and iPhones, points to continued negativity in the mainstream press toward Apple's practices around health and worker safety. But is this negativity justified? We believe it likely is, if you adopt the perspective that Apple must adhere to global health and safety standards on the shop floor rather than Chinese ones (or lack of ones, for that matter).
One need look no further than a picture in the aforementioned NYT article showing the netting at a Foxconn facility that was put in place to reduce worker suicides (another problem, if you weren't aware). A net, you ask? It's clear that with a net to catch jumping workers that Foxconn is doing something to address the problem. But simply offering a deterrent to that reduces the efficacy of a particular type of suicide option is not exactly the type of supplier development reaction that we'd expect of companies operating in North America, let alone any other country in the West. Rather, companies would be expected -- and/or compelled -- to address the suicide causes at the source.
When it comes to Apple's self-reported information, they suggest that 126 facilitates in its 2011 audit did not have the appropriate administrative documentation or approval for "at least one item in the health and safety protocol." More egregiously, "58 facilities had workers who were not wearing appropriate protective equipment (PPE)...also 72 facilities lacked procedures for PPE management." In addition, Apple reported that 78 facilities "had at least on instance where a workstation or machine was missing the appropriate safety device such as a gear guard, policy guard or interlock". What is most surprising about these numbers is how high they are given the all-too-frequent situation in China where factories are tipped off to "surprise" audits in advance. After all, it is far easier to hit the MRO bin (or restock it) for such items as earplugs and goggles than it is to change production practices -- even with just a bit of warning.
Given this, it's clear that if Apple truly wanted to put teeth behind health and safety practices, that it could. But the consequences are clearly not enough to deter suppliers, at least given Apple's current practices.