Foxconn Labor Standards Progress Report

August 22, 2012

God knows how many times we’ve talked about Foxconn, Apple and labor standards in China over the past couple of years. If you recall, when the shit finally hit the fan (and workers started hitting the pavement), Apple called in the labor rights organizations and invited inspections.

This was supposed to be an ongoing deal, and if you remember, the last time the Fair Labor Association came calling and wrote up a summary of what was going on at Foxconn, the expectation was that they would be back to see how Foxconn implemented their suggestions.

And here we go (from FLA’s web site):

In February 2012, FLA assessed working conditions and the treatment of workers at three Chinese factories manufacturing Apple products, which are owned and operated by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd. (Foxconn) in Shenzhen and Chengdu.

On March 28, 2012, FLA published detailed reports on each of the three factories along with recommendations for improving conditions for workers, and a complete remediation plan prepared by Apple and Foxconn to address each issue identified during the FLA assessment. Each remedial action item included a description of the steps to be taken, the name of the unit within Foxconn responsible for implementation, and a timeline for completion.

The action plan stretches over a period of 15 months, from April 1, 2012, through July 1, 2013, with deadlines for many of the action items set in the first three months.

Read the original investigation report and action plan at http://www.fairlabor.org/report/foxconn-investigation-report. FLA-accredited assessors returned to the facilities from June 25 to July 6 2012 to verify the implementation status of remedial action items through June 30.

Read the report, along with detailed information on each of the action items, below.

The report contains a handy table for keeping score, but basically the news is pretty good. I don’t think it’s particularly useful to get bogged down in these numbers, which often can obfuscate problems, but for what it’s worth, there were a total of 360 “remedial actions” between the three factories.

Of those, 195 were scheduled to be completed by May 31, and indeed, Foxconn has complied with all of them. Of a further 254 remedial actions that are scheduled to be completed between June 1 of this year and July 1 of next year, 89 have already been completed ahead of schedule.

That doesn’t really tell us anything of course. The question is whether conditions have gotten better. Back to the report:

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.

[ . . . ]

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.

Now we’re talking. Overtime is down, wages are up (a lot), worker safety has improved. This seems quite substantive, and the monitoring program will continue.

The question everyone is asking of course is “Can I stop feeling guilty about all my iCrap?”

I can’t help you with that one, but I will say that if Foxconn actually comes into conformity with China labor laws, that will mean that conditions at their facilities will be much better than a hell of a lot of other factories here. That might have been true even before all this started, though.

The only other point I’d make here is to look at this, along with the recent successful protest by folks being laid off at Motorola Mobility, and say that the environment for labor rights challenges/protests in China sure has gotten better in the past few years.

You protest, you demonstrate, you have the backing of labor rights groups — there’s a chance you might actually get somewhere. It helps when your employer is a large multinational that has to worry about its brand of course.

This is a win-win in the long run. Apple is, in some ways, now ahead of the curve on being responsive to labor issues. The labor rights groups also have to be happy with the entire process (I would assume). Finally, the workers have obviously benefited, at least until Foxconn starts yanking back all their overtime.