updated 05:50 pm EDT, Thu March 29, 2012
Promises shorter hours, better health and safety
The Fair Labor Association has announced the results of its investigation into labor problems at Apple's major manufacturing partner, Foxconn. The full probe is said to have taken almost a month, and found "excessive overtime and problems with overtime compensation; several health and safety risks; and crucial communication gaps that have led to a widespread sense of unsafe working conditions among workers," according to the FLA.
"The Fair Labor Association gave Apple's largest supplier the equivalent of a full-body scan through 3,000 staff hours investigating three of its factories and surveying more than 35,000 workers," says group president Auret van Heerden in a prepared statement. Violations at Foxconn within the last 12 months are said to include factories breaking the Chinese legal limit of 40 hours per week plus 36 hours of overtime per month, and even the FLA's maximum of 60 hours per week. "During peak production periods, the average number of hours worked per week exceeded 60 hours per worker," the organization adds. "There were periods in which some employees worked more than seven days in a row without the required 24 hours off."
He more importantly states that Apple and Foxconn have agreed to make changes, and that the FLA will monitor and publish results. Foxconn says it will conform factories to Chinese and FLA standards by July 2013, for instance reducing weekly hours to 49, and monthly overtime from 80 hours to 36. To compensate workers financially, a special compensation package is being put in place, and it will bear further expenses by hiring more workers and expanding housing and canteen facilities.
The FLA notes that under Foxconn's old overtime system, about 14 percent of workers may not have been getting proper overtime pay, as the company would rely on 30-minute increments. Someone might work an extra 29 minutes and get no pay, while 58 minutes would only earn one unit of overtime. Under the new terms Foxconn will not only have to properly cover all overtime, including meetings, but retroactively compensate anyone short-shrifted in the past.
According to the FLA's report, 64 percent of Foxconn workers said their pay didn't meet basic needs. In reaction the FLA says it will run cost-of-living studies in Shenzhen and Chengdu, which will be used to make sure Foxconn is meeting FLA standards for both basic needs and discretionary income.
Some other problems at Foxconn are said to include "worker integration and communication, treatment of interns, and China's social security enrollment." Over 43 percent of workers say they have witnessed or been the victim of an accident; Foxconn has promised that it will better involve its workers in health and safety monitoring, as well as related decisions. Although the policy has changed as of today, Foxconn previously only recorded accidents that stopped production.
"Many of Foxconn's health and safety problems, including blocked exits, lack of or faulty personal protective equipment and missing permits, were immediately corrected during the course of the investigation," the FLA states. It also found that "one year after the Chengdu explosion, Foxconn had improved operating procedures, measurement, and documentation to reduce risks related to aluminum dust where Apple products are made."
Harsher words are directed at the official Foxconn union, which is said to be "dominated by management representatives," and not representative of workers' actual demands as officially demanded by Chinese law. The company will allegedly allow elections without manipulation by management.
The publishing of the FLA report coincides with a tour of a new Foxconn iPhone plant by Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cook previously denied accusations that the company has been turning a blind eye to suffering workers because it benefited the company financially. Apple's membership in the FLA, though, followed shortly after a New York Times report exposing Foxconn labor conditions.