Labor advocate challenges accuracy of NYT report on Apple, Foxconn

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The non-profit organization Business for Social Responsibilty has published an open letter to The New York Times pointing out several inaccuracies and misleading statements in the publication's recent report that suggested Apple has ignored worker problems at manufacturing partner Foxconn.

The Times made waves last Wednesday with a profile of the "human costs" that go into the making of Apple's iPad. The report, which included quotes from former Apple executives and an anonymous consultant at BSR, alleged that the Cupertino, Calif., company was aware of and had ignored labor abuses at Foxconn factories.

Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly responded to the allegations in an email to employees that called any claims that the company doesn't care about workers "patently false and offensive."

"We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern," Cook is believed to have written.

BSR issued its own response to the article on Friday (via The Verge) by way of an open letter addressed to the publication's editors. The letter praised the Times for shining a light on "important supply chain issues," but it pointed out that several corrections the organization had sent to the publication after seeing an early version of the report had yet to be made.

"Unfortunately, the article mistakenly attributes several quotes to an unnamed “BSR consultant,” presenting a false impression that those views should be associated with BSR," wrote BSR President and CEO Aron Cramer.

According to the Times' report, the alleged consultant believed BSR "could have saved lives" if Apple had been willing to pressure Foxconn to implement better suicide counseling hotlines. The tipster claimed BSR had negotiated with Foxconn to install new hotlines but the manufacturer made last-minute demands that sunk the project.

Cramer challenged the credibility of the source, noting that "BSR does not believe that Apple has consistently disregarded its advice" about problems related to working conditions at its suppliers. He also said the Times' account of the hotline project "omits and obscures key facts," adding that there are "errors" in how the project was presented. For instance, Cramer noted that companies were actually specifically directed not to pressure suppliers throughout the project.

"BSR has provided paid advice to Apple concerning supply chain labor topics on two occasions, and in both cases, Apple has taken this advice and made efforts to act on it," Cramer wrote in a letter to the newspaper.

The executive also asked the publication to alter the article because it "misstates the views" of BSR. According to him, attributing the views of the consultant to BSR was a "serious misrepresentation" that should be changed.

"The narrative you present is an inaccurate picture of the work we have done with Apple, of the role Apple played in the worker hotline project, and of BSR’s views of Apple," Cramer wrote in his original letter to the Times.

Cramer noted on Friday that "some changes" had been made to the story as a result of his original letter, but he also pointed out that BSR believes "several important inaccuracies and misleading information remained in the story."

For its part, Apple has taken tangible steps to be more transparent about its supply chain. The company announced earlier this month that it had become the first technology company to join the Fair Labor Association. It also released for the first time a list of its suppliers.

Apple's supplier responsibility group performed 229 audits last year, an 80 percent increase from 2010, and shared the results in its annual report also published earlier this month.