Apple Supplier Foxconn Will Reduce Working Hours

Fair Labor Association association finds significant issues with factories in China operated by Apple supplier Foxconn, which said it would reduce hours for some workers.
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Two weeks after radio show This American Life retracted its report based on monologist Mike Daisey's partially fabricated account of working conditions at Foxconn's factories in China, where Apple products are made, the Fair Labor Association has published what is presumably a more fact-based assessment of the labor issues at three Foxconn facilities in China.

Despite revelations that Daisey invented or exaggerated some of the abuses he described his in stage show, the FLA identified what it characterized as "significant issues" with the working conditions at three Foxconn factories in China.

The report was issued just as Apple CEO Tim Cook was in China meeting with officials in Beijing. Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, in conjunction with Cook's visit, promised to strengthen intellectual property protection, according to Xinhua, a state-controlled publication. Cook is also believed to be meeting with officials from China Unicom and China Telecom about the next iPhone, which is expected toward the end of 2012.

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As a result of its almost month-long investigation, the FLA says it has secured commitments from Foxconn to reduce working hours to legal limits, to provide healthier, safer working conditions, to allow workers to particpate in unions not run by management, and to monitor Foxconn facilities for compliance.

The FLA report found that Foxconn employees worked more than was allowed under either Chinese law (40 hours per week, plus 9 hours of overtime per week) or FLA limits (60 hours per week, with overtime). "During peak production periods, the average number of hours worked per week exceeded the FLA Code Standard of 60 hours," the report states. "Also, there were periods in which some workers did not get one day off in seven days."

According to the FLA's survey, factory employees reported working an average of 56 hours per week and reported working 61 hours on average per week during peak periods. Between a third and a half of the workforce worked up to 70 hours per week during a peak period between November 2011 and January 2012.

One concession that Foxconn has not promised is to raise pay, and that appears to be something the company's workers would appreciate more than better working conditions. The FLA report says, "48% [of workers surveyed] thought that their working hours were reasonable, and another 33.8% stated that they would like to work more hours and make more money." Only 17.7% said they worked too much.

The FLA report noted that in all of the focus group discussions it held with surveyed workers, employees expressed concern that labor limits would lower their income.

However, the FLA's scrutiny will improve the pay of those 14% of workers found to have not been compensated fairly for their overtime work. Foxconn has agreed to pay in 15 minute increments rather than its previous 30 minute model. This will reduce situations where an employee works 29 minutes of overtime and receives no pay or works 59 minutes to be paid for only 30 minutes of overtime.

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