On March 30, the Fair Labor Association released an extensive report detailing a host of violations the group found when it audited Apple production lines at Foxconn. But through the controversial inspection group got Cupertino's leading supplier to promise a bevy of corrective actions from reduced working hours to better wages, labor advocates remain unimpressed both with the findings and the timeline for improving conditions.
"Today the FLA released an audit report about Foxconn that we believe is merely a PR stunt by Apple," said Li Qiang, founder of China Labor Watch, a group that has conducted undercover investigations of Foxconn plants. "Even though this report reflects some important labor issues that exist in Foxconn, it is not a comprehensive report and does not address the workers' primary concerns."
To prepare its report, the FLA visited three Foxconn factories and discovered that workers routinely exceeded the 60-hour week industry maximums, often worked more than 6 days in a row without a day off, and did not receive proper compensation for overtime hours or after-work meetings they were forced to attend. Despite the long hours, only 17-percent of workers the FLA surveyed said that their hours were too long and a full 33 percent even wanted to work longer so they could earn more. Despite these numbers, Foxconn pledged to bring its employee hours in line with overtime standards by July 1, 2013.
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of the advocacy group SumOfUs, said the proposed 15-month timeline for change is way too slow, considering that many of these violations have been public knowledge for years.
"This report admits that Foxconn is breaking the law on a daily basis." she said. "If Apple said to Foxconn tomorrow, 'We will only buy products from you that have been made following the law,' do you really think Foxconn couldn't stop breaking the law sooner than 15 months from now?"
The auditor's worker survey also revealed that 43 percent of workers have experienced or witnessed an accident while its inspectors found blocked exits and faulty protective gear. However, the FLA claims that any issues it found were corrected by Foxconn during the inspection process and that safety had improved dramatically since the Chengdu iPad factory accident in 2011.
In its report conclusions, the FLA also stated that Foxconn had developed a plan to enhance worker participation in unions, which during the inspection, were mostly run by the management. Nearly two-thirds of workers reported that their monthly wages were not adequate to cover their basic expenses so the FLA has recommended that it conduct a follow-up study on how much workers need to spend.
To Li Qiang, the answer to the wage and overtime conditions is simple: have Apple spend more money on production rather than squeezing its suppliers for lower prices.
"If Apple raised its order prices and extended delivery times even by a small amount, working conditions in the factories could be improved drastically," he said. "With over $98 billion dollars in its massive cash reserves, Apple is different from other companies because they possess more than ample resources to improve working conditions in supplier chain factories."
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