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In response to public outcry, Apple supplier Foxconn appears to be improving conditions for workers at its factories in China. Another rumor suggests Apple may move Mac Mini production to the U.S.
Keith Bradsher and Charles Duhigg with The New York Times first reported on the changing conditions at Foxconn's plants, telling the story of Foxconn worker Pu Xiaolan. She used to have to sit on an uncomfortable stool, but this year was upgraded a comfortable chair with a back. "In March, unbeknown to Ms. Pu, a critical meeting had occurred between Foxconn’s top executives and a high-ranking Apple official," the reporters wrote. "The companies had committed themselves to a series of wide-ranging reforms. Foxconn, China’s largest private employer, pledged to sharply curtail workers’ hours and significantly increase wages — reforms that, if fully carried out next year as planned, could create a ripple effect that benefits tens of millions of workers across the electronics industry, employment experts say. Other reforms were more personal. Protective foam sprouted on low stairwell ceilings inside factories. Automatic shut-off devices appeared on whirring machines. Ms. Pu got her chair."
The Verge's Sam Byford observed, "Foxconn makes products for virtually all major electronics companies, but after drawing criticism in the past year it seems Apple is eager to spearhead the reforms. An anonymous company executive told the Times that 'the days of easy globalization are done. We know that we have to get into the muck now.'"
CNET's Edward Moyer noted, "Some of the positive steps the Times mentions are decreased hours and increased wages at Foxconn; a tripling of Apple's corporate social responsibility staff; increased transparency from Apple on practices and progress; and a new willingness on the part of Apple to reach out to worker-advocacy groups. Apple has also, the Times reports, stopped treating these labor issues 'like engineering puzzles' and has adopted a 'messier, more human approach' -- one with an increased focus on listening to workers and labor groups as opposed to simply establishing more policies."
Meanwhile, according to Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai with DigiTimes, "Apple is reportedly set to move its Mac mini production lines back to the US with Foxconn Electronics (Hon Hai Precision Industry) to be responsible of handling establishment, according to sources from the upstream supply chain. Currently, Foxconn has about 15 operating bases in the U.S. and the company reportedly plans to start recruiting workers in 2013 for new automated production lines."