Latest Foxconn Report Fails to Impress Skeptics
Aug 23, 2012 6:00 AM PT
Apple and manufacturer Foxconn are making progress in creating safer and fairer working conditions for Foxconn workers, according to a new report from the Fair Labor Association.
Earlier this year, labor advocates questioned whether workers were safe and fairly compensated at the Chinese factory, which manufactures many of Apple's electronic goods. Apple joined the FLA and then enlisted the organization to investigate claims of poor working conditions at Foxconn. In March, the group released a report condemning the factory for what the FLA concluded were long working hours and unsafe equipment that lead to worker injuries.
However, the factory has cleaned up its act, according to a report released this week. Foxconn has reduced workers' hours to fewer than 60 per week, including overtime, the FLA said, putting the company in line with Chinese regulations. It also improved worker health and safety by enforcing ergonomic breaks and strengthening equipment designed to protect against injury.
The FLA also expressed confidence that Foxconn would continue to monitor improvements.
Neither Apple nor the Fair Labor Association responded to our requests for further details.
Is It Enough?
While any improvements are welcome at Foxconn, it's hard to believe that its problems were fixed in such a short time period, said Kaytee Riek, campaign manager for SumOfUs. Independent researchers have found evidence that contradicts the FLA's report, she noted.
"The FLA, which is paid by Apple, says everything is going swimmingly, which would be a radical departure from a decade of brutal labor practices at Foxconn. We are inclined to believe the independent researchers," she told MacNewsWorld.
Even the FLA's report states that challenges remain in making Foxconn a safer and fairer workplace. The association acknowledged violations regarding overtime laws and workers' organizational rights, but it has given Foxconn time to correct those problems.
"Apparently, in the view of both the FLA and Apple, massive law-breaking by Foxconn is not a problem, as long as Foxconn promises that it will stop eventually," said Riek.
In addition, some improvements may look good on paper but have unintended negative consequences, said Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch. For instance, although there was a reduction in overtime hours, Foxconn employees are now expected to do more in a shorter time period but don't receive the extra payment for their work.
"The intensity of the work has increased because they shrink the working hours," Qiang told MacNewsWorld. "So they have to do more and get lower pay."
In addition, the move that could ultimately bring real change -- Apple's paying its suppliers more -- hasn't happened, said Qiang.
"When we say we hope that Apple will take practical actions, we mean that the most practical action they can take is to get more money to the factories to increase spending there," he said. "If they increase the price of the products they get from the supply chain, that's additional money that could be used to increase salaries of workers, but Apple just isn't doing that. What they've done is just to assign the FLA to check out the conditions, instead of increasing their practical actions."
The FLA's suggestions don't include a nudge to Apple to take action, said Riek.
"There is nothing in the report that speaks to Apple's responsibility to ensure that its price and delivery demands are not in conflict with its suppliers' labor rights obligations," she said. "If Apple is not held accountable in terms of its own role, it is impossible for genuine respect for workers' rights to be achieved and maintained."
That could be because the pressure for Apple isn't coming from consumers or threatening organizations, said Qiang. Instead, it's coming from the FLA, which is made up of some of the businesses, universities and non-governmental organizations it is assignment to monitor. For that reason, the association's accountability must be questioned, said Qiang.
"This is an organization tied to social responsibility, but it's still on the side of the corporations," he said. "The organization does not represent labor, because it is made up of corporations. The information they release is in favor of the companies instead of the rights of the workers, which is the basic difference in determining that what FLA does is not always in favor of labor."