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FLA chief calls Foxconn facilities 'first class'

Head of organization inspecting Apple's supplier plants tells Reuters that an uptick in worker suicides may be related to boredom.

A worker at one of Apple's supplier plants.

The facilities at Chinese factories manufacturing iPads and iPhones are better than other factories in the country, the head of the labor rights organization tasked with inspecting the plants told Reuters.

With his iPad in hand, no doubt.

The nonprofit Fair Labor Association (FLA) was asked by Apple earlier this week to investigate conditions at Foxconn facilities in China following reports of unsafe working conditions and a significant uptick in worker suicides. The FLA expects to make its Foxconn audit results available on its Web site next month, with inspections of Apple suppliers Quanta and Pegatron to follow.

"The facilities are first class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm," FLA President Auret van Heerden told the news agency after visiting the plant. Van Heerden declined to offer a conclusion on employee working conditions but said boredom might have led to the increase in suicides.

"I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory," he said. "So the problems are not the intensity and burnout and pressure-cooker environment you have in a garment factory. It's more a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."

In an odd twist, Reuters reports that FLA staff members are using iPads to log employee responses to questions posed during interviews. The survey includes questions about how employees were hired, how much they are paid, and the conditions of their dorm rooms and food.

Foxconn, which is the world's largest component maker, has come under increased scrutiny in the past couple of years after reports of its employees committing suicide at company facilities. The company has also been criticized for allegedly employing underage laborers, providing poor living conditions at its dormitory housing, and overworking employees.

Pressure on Apple increased after a pair of New York Times reports last month detailed poor and dangerous labor conditions in the company's supplier facilities. Those stories coincided closely with the release of Apple's own supplier responsibility report near the beginning of January, which was based on more than 200 audits. The release of that report, which found issues with working hours and compliance with environmental standards, was joined with the announcement that Apple was becoming a member of the FLA.