by Erin Wigger and Peter Schnall
Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), China Labor Watch (CLW) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) disagree on what Foxconn has accomplished over the past several months in response to the FLA’s audit of working conditions at Foxconn in March 29th, 2012 and its subsequent report on changes at the plant published on August 21st.
It appears as though there were some changes at Foxconn – the most important being a reduction in hours worked (although not all workers were happy with the changes in work hours as it resulted in a reduction in wages), the elimination of dispatch work, and an increase in wages. However, as SACOM points out below, many promised changes have not yet occurred.
For your convenience we’ve taken the liberty of extracting excerpts from each of these reports (see below). Links can be found to the full reports at the bottom.
From the FLA:
“Many physical changes to improve worker health and safety have been made since the investigation, including the enforcement of ergonomic breaks, changing the design of workers’ equipment to guard against repetitive stress injuries, updating of maintenance policies to ensure equipment is working properly, and testing of emergency protective equipment like eyewashes and sprinklers. Foxconn has also engaged consultants to provide health and safety training for all employees."
"The most significant commitments made by Foxconn following FLA’s original investigation were related to union elections and worker representation, and compliance with Chinese labor law regarding hours of work. Deadlines for remediation of these items continue through July 2013; however, Foxconn has taken initial steps toward fulfilling these commitments."
"The company has reduced hours to 60 per week (including overtime) with the goal of reaching full compliance with the Chinese legal limit of 40 hours per week plus an average of 9 hours of overtime per week while protecting worker pay."
"Foxconn also helped to extend unemployment insurance coverage for migrant workers working in Shenzhen by advocating for legislation that will allow them to access the unemployment insurance scheme, effective January 1, 2013. This change has implications not only for those employed at Foxconn, but for all other migrant workers in Shenzhen."
"Significant improvements were found regarding Foxconn’s internship program, which affects all Foxconn facilities. The company now ensures that student interns do not work overtime; that their work has a more direct connection to their field of study; and they understand that they are free to terminate the internship if and when they wish. At the time of verification there were no interns at the Guanlan and Chengdu facilities; there were, however, 46 interns at Longhua and implementation could be verified at this facility through worker interviews."
"Foxconn and Apple are carrying out the robust remediation plan developed following FLA’s investigation, published on March 28, 2012. Over the past three months, steady progress has been made at the three facilities employing an estimated 178,000 workers, and all remediation items due within the timeframe have been completed, with others ahead of schedule."
"Some of the most challenging action items – such as compliance with Chinese labor law regarding hours of work – are yet to come, and FLA will continue to engage with Apple and Foxconn to monitor and verify progress.”
“In its report, the FLA trumpets the speedy progress at Foxconn in remediating widespread labour rights violations. However the FLA has overstated the improvements at Foxconn. Firstly, most of the actions completed by Foxconn are changes at the policy level only, but few substantial changes in labour practices were found at this stage. Secondly, Foxconn has deliberately delayed implementing many of the actions called for in the remediation plan, even those that are almost cost-free. Thirdly, workers have had no opportunity to participate in the remedial action process. SACOM has repetitively demanded democratic trade unions at Foxconn as an indispensable step in reforming its labour practices."
"Last May, SACOM issued an investigative report on Foxconn’s labour practices in its Shenzhen and Zhengzhou factories, Sweatshops are good for Apple and Foxconn, but not for workers. Apart from a halt in the abusive use of student workers, no significant progress was observed. In April, we found that workers were still working up to 80 hours per month in overtime. Frontline management continued to impose humiliating disciplinary measures on workers, including forcing workers to write confession letters, read out these confession letters to the co-workers, clean the toilets and perform other menial labour. Workers still had little knowledge about the kinds of chemicals they were using."
"SACOM reiterates that factory inspection alone cannot eliminate labour rights violations. A democratic trade union trusted by workers is the most sustainable solution towards decent working conditions.”
“FLA just released a status report of the improvement at three factories of Foxconn. This report is detailed and comprehensive, with full access and resources in the investigation. However, China Labor Watch holds three concerns in response to the report:
1. In that report, FLA successfully shifted the responsibility for Apple by blaming Foxconn for the previous unsatisfying working conditions in those factories. In fact, Apple has the responsibility and resource to improve the labor conditions of workers.
2. The harsh working conditions are by no means isolated to just Foxconn but exist throughout Apple's supply chain. However, that report only focused on Foxconn factories. It is Apple's entire supply chain system that should be responsible for the squeezing of workers.
3. Although the working hours at Foxconn have been reduced to less than 60 hours per week, the intensity of the hourly work has been increased. According to our follow-up investigation, the workers have to complete the workload of 66 hours before within 60 hours now per week. As a result, the workers get lower wages but have to work much harder and they are not satisfied with the current situation.”