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.

5 thoughts on “Foxconn Labor Standards Progress Report

  1. jinxin

    Interesting post.
    Good for those that work at Foxconn but the real problems lies with all the other factories. I am not so sure how Apple handles this but most of the factories in china that try to comply with chinas labour laws end up using subcontractors that do not comply with any laws and most foreign brand conscious multinationals do not extend their inspections to subcontractors and right now nobody seems to ask them to either. Unless those multinationals start to inspect every single factory that is involved in producing their merchandise all those fancy inspections and whatever control mechanism are nothing more but a really good marketing tool to spread their brand name. In my opinion there should be more to corporate responsibility than just that. Nobody can stop feeling guilty for all their “iCrap” or whatever the brand they prefer is called.
    I remember reading an article during my research for my graduating thesis about a foreign company that more or less forced the chinese factory to comply with chinese labour laws and introduced a functional collective bargaining system after a strike. The end of the story was a labour cost rise for the factory which tried to pass that one on to the foreign company who was not willing to pay more and just move on to another factory.

    1. Stan Post author

      Yeah, it’s going to be a long process. Personally, I don’t really care all that much what Apple or the factories do in terms of CSR as long as they follow the law. I’m a staunch enforcement guy, and I think it comes down to local government enforcement of national labor standards.

      As I said, we have a very long way to go before that all starts to work the way it should. But I’m an optimist!

      1. Jinxin

        I am hoping for local enforcement of the national laws! And someday it might happen, I am an optimist myself. Right now I believe honest CSR would be a big plus until the laws are enforced.

        1. Stan Post author

          Yeah, that is a problem with my argument. What happens between now and the time the laws are properly enforced? CSR is perhaps better than nothing. Fair enough, as long as it doesn’t provide cover for the local governments to ignore reform efforts.