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Wednesday, August 30, 2006, 02:00 pm PT (05:00 pm ET)

Apple asked to intervene in iPod story lawsuit

Apple Computer said Wednesday it was working to resolve a legal dispute over alleged labor abuses by iPod manufacturer Foxconn in China, the Associated Press is reporting.

Hongfujin Precision Industry Co., a major exporter owned by a Taiwanese company, is said to be behind the recently reported defamation lawsuit against two journalists at the state-run newspaper China Business News, over stories alleging that workers on iPod assembly lines toil under harsh conditions for little pay.

On July 10, a Shenzhen Intermediate Court in the southern export hub of Shenzhen accepted the case and froze personal assets — including apartments, bank accounts and a car — belonging to the two journalists, Wang You and editor Weng Bao.

According to the AP, Chinese media and a journalists' advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders, immediately criticized the move and urged Apple, which has vowed to ensure fair treatment of workers at its suppliers, to intercede.

"Apple is working behind the scenes to help resolve this issue," said Apple spokesman Jill Tan.

Reporters Without Borders is also reported to have sent an open letter to Apple's chief executive, Steve Jobs, urging him to persuade Hongfujin's parent company, Taiwan-based Foxconn, to drop its case against the journalists.

"We believe that all Wang and Weng did was to report the facts and we condemn Foxconn's reaction," said the letter, signed by Robert Menard, secretary-general of the group.

Allegations against Foxconn first appeared in a June report by British newspaper, the Mail on Sunday. It alleged that factory workers were paid as little as $50 a month to work 15-hour shifts building iPods.

Apple immediately responded, promising a thorough investigation into the conditions at Foxconn.

In a report released earlier this month, Apple said it found the iPod maker to be in compliance in the majority of the areas audited. However, it did find some violations of its Code of Conduct relating to overtime, employee accommodations and administrative issues, that it pledge to immediately redress with Foxconn's help.