updated 12:45 pm EST, Wed February 15, 2012
Suggests boredom, alienation led to suicides
The president of the Fair Labor Association, Auret van Heerden, is already suggesting that conditions at Foxconn facilities are better than those in many other factories in the country, according to Reuters. The FLA is just beginning a study of Apple's top eight suppliers in China, of which Foxconn is the company's main manufacturing partner. After his initial visits to Foxconn, van Heerden is claiming that "The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm."
He has so far spent several days touring Foxconn facilities preparing for the actual study. "I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory," van Heerden remarks. "So the problems are not the intensity and burnout and pressure-cooker environment you have in a garment factory...It's more a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."
The statement is a reference to a series of suicides that have taken place at Foxconn in the past couple of years. These have typically been blamed on strenuous conditions, since the company is known to pay low wages while demanding heavy amounts of overtime. Van Heerden says that the FLA has been dealing with suicides at Chinese factories since the 1990s, however, and blames cultural and societal factors.
"You have lot of young people, coming from rural areas, away from families for the first time," he commments. "They're taken from a rural into an industrial lifestyle, often quite an intense one, and that's quite a shock to these young workers. And we find that they often need some kind of emotional support, and they can't get it. Factories initially didn't realize those workers needed emotional support."
The president dismisses suggestions that the FLA may be producing a simplified, positive depiction of Apple suppliers. "Apple didn't need to join the FLA," he says. "The FLA system is very tough. It involves unannounced visits, complete access, public reporting. If Apple wanted to take the easy way out there were a whole host of options available to them. "The fact that they joined the FLA shows they were really serious about raising their game." NGOS and over 200 universities are said sit on the FLA's board, alongside participating corporations.
The planned study involves approximately 30 FLA members visiting two Foxconn factories, including one in Shenzhen and another in Chengdu. For over three weeks about 35,000 workers will be interviewed in groups of 30, anonymously answering questions on provided iPads. Some questions will probe hiring practices, emotional health, whether people were offered contracts and understood them, the condition of dorm rooms and food, and if complaints are actually being followed up.
The data should be uploaded immediately, allowing the release of a public interim report in early March. A final report will single out places where suppliers need to make changes, and offer recommendations. "There might not be a clear policy on hiring, that could lead unwittingly to discrimination against hepatitis B sufferers," van Heerden submits as one example. "There might not be adequate documentation that could lead to the risk that workers get hired with fake documentation, that underage workers come in. We can recommend very specific actions they can take."