Auret Van Heerden, leader of The Fair Labor Association, took a penetrating look at three Foxconn factories in China. He wanted to see whether or not the real picture of Chinese factory labor lives up to the standards confirmed by massive audits conducted by Apple, which contracts with Foxconn for producing your iPhones, your iTouches, and other cool gadgets.
Since he was 18, Van Heerden has dedicated himself to defending workers’ rights around the world. At Foxconn he facilitated commitments from workers, managers, owners and buyers to make a series of changes to labor conditions ranging from health and safety issues to representation issues. Van Heerden is 56 years old and feels a sense of achievement about his work. No one says he shouldn’t. He has figured out a separate audit method that brings to the surface fine detail that has been historically left out in previous audits. That is valuable for all parties.
What makes Van Heerden successful is his choice of how to get things done. Instead of entering the political arena and wrestling with policy-makers, he goes straight to the companies that own and manage labor. Right now, as a representative of 20 outfits that want to make progress on their labor practices, that’s where he spends the bulk of his time: he puts together committees of workers and conducts training programs in China, Thailand and Honduras. His solution is more practical and engaging, and less political.