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Controversy surrounds Foxconn investigation

April 18, 2012

Above: Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour protest Foxconn and Apple in Hong Kong, February 22

On March 29, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) released a much-anticipated report on its investigation into the labour practices at three Foxconn factories in China employing close to 180,000 workers who manufacture electronic devices for Apple including iPads and iPhones.

When Apple joined the FLA in January of this year, the Association agreed to launch an investigation into three of the tech giant's supply factories which had been widely criticized for labour rights violations and harsh management practices that have been linked to a series of worker suicides in 2010.

The FLA investigation confirmed that Apple's supplier is violating numerous labour laws and FLA Code standards, including:

  • Overtime hours of up to 30 hours a week, far in excess of what is permitted by Chinese law, and failure to give workers one day off in seven;
  • Over 64% of workers reporting that their wages don't meet their basic needs;
  • Union committees in which worker representatives are almost entirely management personnel or nominated by management; and
  • Numerous health and safety violations and failure to inform workers of hazards or to involve them in health and safety programs.

Foxconn has agreed to bring its hours of work into line with legal limits by July 1, 2013, and to "develop a compensation package that addresses the income lost due to reduced hours." Despite news reports to the contrary, Foxconn has made no written commitment to raise hourly wages to any specific level.

On freedom of association, the Remediation Plan says that existing union will "encourage the participation of worker representatives in the election of Labor Union committees without management's interference," and the company will give workers access to the contents of their collective bargaining agreements.

The company promises to address immediate health and safety issues, encourage the participation of worker representatives in health and safety committees, and enhance health and safety policies and procedures and training programs for management personnel and workers.

Weaknesses of the report

Although the FLA report confirms a number of worker rights violations that had been previously documented by the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), it has been criticized by SACOM and other labour rights groups for underestimating the seriousness of some persistent violations, missing others entirely, and failing to require adequate corrective action.

Debby Chan of SACOM says she is disappointed that the FLA report did not expose the inhumane treatment of workers at Foxconn. "Some of the workers we interviewed reported having to write confession letters as punishment. Some were even forced to undergo military-style training."

She is also concerned that the FLA failed to address how student interns are recruited to work at Foxconn. "The so-called internship program is bogus because the work at Foxconn is irrelevant to the student's major. Even worse, some students told us they were forced to work at Foxconn."

According to Esther de Haan of makeITfair, the FLA report also fails to address the crucial question of whether a company as profitable as Apple has a responsibility to ensure that the workers who make its products are paid wages that meet their basic needs.

"With all the time and resources put into this investigation, the FLA did not assess whether Foxconn is paying a living wage," says de Haan.

She notes that the FLA has promised to do cost of living studies in the two cities where the factories are located, but responsibility for determining whether workers' salaries meet the FLA's basic-needs-wage requirements is being left with Foxconn.

Giving Workers a Voice

In the wake of the FLA report, the spotlight has now shifted to Apple and Foxconn, with labour rights groups demanding action that includes but goes beyond the recommendations in the report.

On March 30, SACOM released a public statement expressing its hope that Apple and Foxconn will "facilitate democratic elections in the trade unions which will enable workers to monitor the working conditions by themselves."

On April 3, the Good Electronics network released a statement that, among other demands, calls on Foxconn to put in place a mechanism for collective bargaining "that enables workers to negotiate with management on appropriate wage levels," and on Apple to "amend its purchasing practices and fix unit prices and production deadlines that do not undermine agreements on pay and working hours."


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