After recent media exposés of labor abuses in China, Apple Inc. joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a nonprofit labor rights monitoring organization, and immediately engaged it to audit conditions in its Foxconn supplier factories in that country. Speaking April 2 at the ILR School, Bennett Freeman, a corporate sustainability advocate, encouraged students to continue speaking up about Cornell's relationship with the FLA.
Cornell has been an affiliate of the FLA since its founding in 1999 and is now one of more than 200 affiliated colleges and universities. Student activists, including groups at Cornell, have for years criticized the organization for being too close to corporations. The FLA has 34 corporate affiliates and representatives of six corporations on its board and an equal number of representatives from universities and NGOs.
On March 30, the FLA released an audit that documented dozens of legal, regulatory and human rights violations in Foxconn facilities making iPhones, iPads and other Apple products.
Some workers reported 60-hour workweeks and 11-day work stretches, and 43 percent said they had experienced or witnessed factory accidents, according to The New York Times.
"I think you are doing absolutely the right thing to put this before the university," said Freeman, senior vice president of sustainability research and policy for Calvert Investments. "Keep talking. Keep the pressure on to make the FLA do a good job."
Freeman also said Cornell should remain affiliated with the FLA and "stay at the table to push it in the right direction."
Student activists, Freeman said, can play a powerful role in mobilizing pressure on investors to make sure that Apple and Foxconn follow through on promises to improve working conditions.
Mary Catt is assistant director of communications at the ILR School.