Foxconn Pledges to Improve Conditions

Foxconn, which manufactures more than 40% of the world’s electronics for Apple, Dell, and a host of other high-tech companies, has announced improvements to working conditions in their factories, including a wage increase and a cap on working hours. The announcement is a response to a Fair Labor Association report on conditions in Foxconn factories, which found violations of both Chinese law and industry codes of conduct. It also comes as Apple CEO Tim Cook visits Beijing. From the New York Times:

“There’s this lingering sense among workers that they’re in a dangerous place,” Auret van Heerden, president and chief executive of the Fair Labor Association, said in an interview. But Foxconn has “reached a tipping point. They have publicly promised to make changes in a manner that they will have to deliver on it.”

Apple, which recently joined the Fair Labor Association, had asked the group to investigate plants manufacturing iPhones, iPads and other devices. In recent months, a growing outcry over conditions at overseas factories have prompted protests and petitions, and several labor rights organizations have started scrutinizing Apple’s suppliers. Earlier this week a collection of advocacy groups sent Apple an open letter calling on the company to “ensure decent working conditions at all its suppliers.”

Since January, Apple has released a list of 156 of its suppliers — which it had previously declined to identify — and has begun posting regular monitoring reports on hours worked by factory employees. Apple, which has regularly audited its suppliers since 2006, said in a statement on Thursday, “We share the F.L.A.’s goal of improving lives and raising the bar for manufacturing companies everywhere.”

The impact of Foxconn’s hour and wage changes could signal a new, far-reaching turn in reforms. Foxconn is China’s largest and most prominent private employer, with 1.2 million workers, and though the Fair Labor Association’s investigation was limited to Apple factories, the shifts announced today have the potential to increase wages and improve working conditions across Foxconn, which also manufactures products for hundreds of other brands, and at non-Foxconn plants across China.

See the full FLA report.

Foxconn made its announcement as Apple CEO Tim Cook was in China, where he met with high-level officials, including vice-Premier Li Keqiang, and visited a Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou. From PC World:

Cook met with vice premier Li Keqiang, a day after he visited Beijing’s mayor. Experts have said the meetings are meant to bolster ties with the Chinese government as the nation has become critical to Apple’s manufacturing and product sales.

During his meeting with Cook, Li said he hoped Apple and foreign firms would increase cooperation with China, and push for industrial development in the country’s central and western regions, according to a Wednesday report by the Xinhua News Agency.

Li, however, also hoped multinational companies would pay more concern to their Chinese workers.

See also the New York Times’ previous in-depth reporting on Foxconn as part of their iEconomy series: Part 1: How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work and Part 2: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad . Read more about Foxconn, Apple and labor conditions in China via CDT, including, “This American Life’s Foxconn Retraction: Reactions,” which looks at recent coverage of Foxconn.