updated 04:18 pm EST, Mon February 4, 2013
Manufacturer responds to internal, external pressure
Asian manufacturer Foxconn will soon allow workers to elect union representatives for the first time, says UK newspaper The Telegraph. Under the arrangement, a chairman and 20 members of the Federation of Labour Unions Committee will be elected every five years. The Financial Times remarks that the current representatives weren't nominated in an open and transparent manner; over half of the committee members are in fact from management, making it easier for Foxconn executives to fight any changes they don't like.
The change is believed to be a response to both internal and external pressure. In the latter case, negative publicity about Foxconn working conditions put pressure on client companies like Apple, who in turn moved to have Foxconn factories inspected by the Fair Labor Association. Apple has also become more responsive to Chinese activist groups, which it once tended to ignore.
Internally Foxconn has had to cope with strikes, protests, and riots related to a number of labor problems. Prior to the involvement of Apple and the FLA, Foxconn was widely criticized for subjecting employees to extreme overtime for little pay, while also maintaining an undemocratic union committee, lax safety and environmental standards, and in some instances underaged workers. Many of these problems have been at least partly addressed, but activists have argued that more effort is needed.