Report Shows Foxconn Conditions Improving

In March, Taiwanese electronics manufacturing contractor Foxconn pledged to make serious improvements to working conditions in their mainland Chinese factories after the Fair Labor Association launched an investigation into the company. The investigation was hired by Foxconn client Apple Inc., after the American company garnered negative press and pressure from civil society groups to address recurring Foxconn employee suicides and a 2011 explosion that killed 2 employees and injured many more. Yesterday, the Fair Labor Association released a status report, and The Unofficial Apple Weblog summarizes its findings:

[…]The FLA issued a report yesterday showing significant progress towards creating a better working environment for Foxconn employees.

Apple joined the FLA in January of 2012 after reports of hostile working conditions and worker suicides at Foxconn plants. The findings published in the FLA report show that all 195 actions that were due during April and May were completed. Foxconn also completed 89 action items ahead of their deadlines, with 76 items remaining on the list of actions to be completed over the next year.

Probably the best news was that Foxconn has made significant progress towards bringing its factories into compliance with Chinese legal limits on working hours, reducing hours to under 60 per week (with overtime). The goal? To reach full compliance of the legal limit of 40 hours per week plus an average of 9 hours of overtime, while making sure that workers are still compensated fairly.

The New York Times reports on challenges to reducing overtime, due to both an employee desire to stockpile hours, and to Foxconn logistics:

Foxconn said Wednesday it would continue to cut overtime to less than 9 hours a week from the current 20, even though that could raise labor costs while also making it difficult to attract workers, who often seek jobs with overtime so they can maximize their pay.

“It is a challenge,” said Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn’s chief executive. “When we reduce overtime, it means we need to hire more people and implement more automation, more investment on robotic engineering. More workers also mean more dormitories and recreational facilities. It takes time.”

[…]Many people would leave Foxconn if there was no overtime, according to a post by “Shenzhen MarS” on Sina Weibo, a microblogging site.

Reuters interviewed Foxconn employees, and relays mixed opinions on overtime reduction:

At Foxconn’s massive factory in Shenzhen’s Longhua district, six workers interviewed by Reuters said overtime hours had been cut to between 48 to 60 hours per month, down from some 80 before.

Some said more workers were quitting Foxconn to seek better paid work elsewhere, with red posters plastered on walls everywhere calling for large-scale recruitment of replacements. Staff were getting text messages offering bonuses for referring friends or relatives to the factory.

“A lot of my friends have resigned,” said a production line worker surnamed Li. “…From just my home town alone, there have been at least ten people who have left. On a basic level, most workers were able to withstand (the pressures) of the previous overtime system.”

But not everyone was unhappy.

“There’s been an improvement in the past six months… It’s a bit more comfortable with shorter work days,” said spiky-haired worker Liu Xiaoguan. But his take-home pay has dropped from around 3,700 yuan per month to 3,000 yuan.

The Reuters article also notes that Apple’s longtime relationship with the Fair Labor Association has led some to distrust the investigation, a fact noted by Wired during the investigation’s beginnings. In July, China Labor Watch released an investigative report alleging labor rights violations elsewhere in Apple’s supply chain.

Earlier this year, Foxconn indirectly sparked a scandalizing controversy turned epistemic debate, when This American Life broadcast an excerpt from Mike Daisey’s one-man show about undercover visits to Foxconn factories in China. This American Life retracted their piece after “substantial fabrications” were revealed in Daisey’s tale.

For more on labor conditions, workers’ rights, Foxconn and Apple, see prior CDT coverage.

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