The Guardian reports on the latest study of labor conditions at Foxconn factories. Hong Kong workers’ rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom) found that:
Grueling workloads, humiliating punishments and battery-farm living conditions remain routine for workers assembling Apple’s luxury electronics, according to one of the most detailed reports yet on life inside China’s Foxconn factories.
The researchers claim that intimidation, exhaustion and labour rights violations “remain the norm” for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese iPhone workers, despite Apple redoubling its efforts to improve conditions.
Nothing new here, but it is an update on how much/how little progress has been made. I do think, though, that we need to separate actual labor violations and working conditions Apple/Foxconn has pledged to change versus conditions that are common here in China.
I think it’s fair, and worthwhile, to cite overtime violations. And if Foxconn has agreed to implement certain policies, by all means, someone should follow up to see whether that has actually happened. But at the end of the day, the conditions at these factories are never going to be satisfactory in the eyes of NGO critics who have standards that are simply much higher than is the norm here.
Just one example:
Where most assembly staff were previously forced to stand, stools have now been introduced for some workers. However, they are under instructions to sit on only a third of the seat, so that they remain “nimble” enough to do the work.
Is the glass half full or half empty? No labor violation there, and progress has been made. Is this “nimble” sitting policy now on the list of things that must be changed?
We aren’t there yet, not by a long shot, but there might come a day when labor activists will need to declare victory and go home.