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ABC’s Nightline granted inside access to Apple factories, report airs tonight

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There have only been a handful of individuals who have been granted access into Apple’s largest, secretive and guarded manufacturing plant, Foxconn. Among the fortunate few, is ABC’s “Nightline” anchor, Bill Weir, who will debut his unrestricted coverage of work, life and play inside Chinese manufacturing giant, Foxconn.

In the 1990s, as a result of its high profile, Nike fell into activists’ line of sight. The company was forced to relent to the media’s scrutiny, and adopt improvements in its factory’s compliance. Fast forward to 2012 and we’ve seen the resurgence of this same movement, with Apple squarely at the forefront of the media’s attention. While Apple has been taking the brunt of the bashing by the media and pedestrians, it has been forced to step up their efforts to enact stricter measures for Foxconn to comply with fairer labor practices.

Between January and November 2010, 18 Foxconn employees jumped to their deaths from the roof of their dorms, which drew media scrutiny questioning employee’s living conditions. Then in January 2012, The New York Times ran an expose on Apple, questioning Job’s decision to manufacture 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products overseas. Apple employs 43,000 in the United States and 23,000 overseas, with an additional 700,000 overseas working for Apple contractors. With these figures in tote, naysayers contend that manufacturing should have been completed domestically, within the United States, to stimulate an ailing economy.

While Apple has been sitting under the microscope in the United States, bystanders at the opposite end of the spectrum are not entirely faulting Apple. Chinese factory owners and middle men support business practices that Westerns would call “deceitful.” On the other hand, even low wages are in competitive demand, contended for by the unskilled, middle-school and high-school dropouts, or sons and daughters of Chinese farmers.

To Apple’s credit, the company worked with its manufacturers to improve living and safety conditions, and conducts audits on a yearly basis. Yet, as Bill Weir was informed by the Auret van Heerden, President of the Fair Labor Association, Foxconn has a tendency to spruce up their factory come audit. It’s an apparent inevitability.

“I expect them to put on a show for us,” van Heerden tells Weir. “That’s normal with every factory you go to, even if it’s just the time that it takes you to get from the gate to the factory floor, there’s always fifteen or twenty minutes of protocol to get in there. The special equipment comes out, they put the ear plugs in, they put the masks on, and they can transform a factory in twenty minutes, so we expect that.”

Having acknowledged that fact, coupled with an unfettered access — the privileged of talking to any employee – in Foxconn, Weir hopes that with the sheer number of interviews he has conducted, “the dysfunctionality starts to come up,” Weir states. “Our method is such — the bottom-up method — that over the next couple of days, everything will surface.”

ABC’s special edition of “Nightline,” “iFactory: Inside Apple,” will air on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT.

Photo credit: Thomas Lee