Fair Labor Association gives Apple suppliers a gold star for improved working conditions

22 Aug 2012

Workers in an electronics factory in Shenzhen (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Having come under fire for poor working conditions in Foxconn factories in China, where components for Apple products are made and assembled, auditors from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) were enlisted by the firms to review the situation, and the latest report from the assessment suggests that the factories have made significant improvements.

Foxconn is the largest private sector employer in China and hundreds of thousands of workers are employed in its plants across southern China. The audit is one of the most comprehensive and detailed assessments in the history of manufacturing, according to the FLA, and follows years of complaints that Foxconn employees have to suffer long working hours, discriminiation, common workplace accidents, and insufficient remuneration for overtime.

Three Foxconn facilities were reviewed by the FLA, who interviewed about 35,000 employees. All actions due for completion to date were completed, as well as 89 achieved ahead of their deadline, and the FLA expects that the remaining actions will be completed over the coming year.

Cutting overtime

Overtime was a huge issue at the Foxconn plants and the FLA has advised that working hours at the plants must be reduced by about a third by July 2013 in order to comply with Chinese legal limits of 40 hours per week plus an average of nine hours overtime per week.

“The next phase of improvements will be challenging for Foxconn because they involve major changes in the working environment that will inevitably cause uncertainty and anxiety among workers,” said Auret van Heerden, president and CEO of the FLA. “As Foxconn prepares to comply with the Chinese legal limits on work hours, consultation with workers on the changes and implications will be critical to a successful transition.”

Slashing overtime hours could have an adverse affect on workers who rely on these extra hours to earn enough to support their families. Currently, it is common for workers in these plants to work up to 20 hours of overtime per week.

Further improvements

As improvements continue, Foxconn has also promised to improve safety in the factories, hire more workers and upgrade their dormitories.

Other improvements made at the plants include the enforcement of ergonomic breaks, changes to workers’ equipment to protect them from repetitive strain injuires, updates to maintenance policies, testing of emergency protective equipment, and health and safety training for all staff.

Foxconn is also attempting to boost employee morale by offering an allowance for housing and food should they choose to live off-site.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic