The FLA report ‘Independent investigation of Apple’s supplier Foxconn’ confirms abusive labour conditions as have been reported over the past years by local and international labour groups. GoodElectronics and makeITfair welcome the FLA efforts but also point out serious flaws in the root cause analysis and the proposed solutions. Since Apple joined FLA in January 2012, makeITfair and GoodElectronics have issued a number of statements commenting upon the new developments.
Within 3 months of Apple joining the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an investigation into labour conditions at Apple’s key supplier Foxconn in China was conducted. This investigation has been carried out on an unprecedented scale: 35,500 workers have been interviewed. As announced, FLA has made the full worker survey data available. FLA has elaborated detailed remediation plans for the investigated Foxconn production facilities which were also made available..
The FLA investigative report confirms the occurrence of excessive and unpaid overtime, health and safety risks, serious communication gaps between workers and management , wages that are insufficient to cover basic needs, and abuse of student labour. FLA reports that Foxconn has agreed to address reported issues, with an emphasis on hours of work, compensation, industrial relations and health and safety systems. The announced remediation plans go quite a way towards recommendations made over the years makeITfair and GoodElectronics and other labour advocates, especially regarding reducing working hours while at the same time protecting workers from losing income and workers’ representation.
Continuous reasons for concern, suggestions for action
At the same time, GoodElectronics and makeITfair found serious flaws in the root cause analysis and the solutions proposed by FLA. GoodElectronics and makeITfair are especially concerned that the promised steps made by Foxconn might be mainly words, as Foxconn already earlier promised to reduce the overtime to the amount allowed by Chinese law by the end of 2011.
- In the first place, Apple, as an important buyer, should amend its purchasing practices and fix unit prices and production deadlines that do not undermine agreements on pay and working hours.
- FLA fails to report any major findings on one of the most notorious problems at Foxconn, the harsh, psychologically abusive management methods. While aspects of the FLA report do suggest that these issues are very real, and it has long been assumed that these abusive practices are a causal factor in the rash of suicides at Foxconn in 2010 and 2011, there is no comprehensive remediation plan to address these issues.
- FLA acknowledges some violations in the use of student workers but fails to propose effective action take action on the practice that student interns are made to work normal production hours and risk punishment when they refuse an internship.
- The FLA announces that Foxconn has agreed to develop a compensation package that protects workers from losing income due to reduced overtime. As 64% of the workers interviewed also indicate that their wage does not meet their basic needs there is an immediate need to raise the wages to a living wage level.
- While FLA proposes that Foxconn reduces the overtime to legal limits within 15 months, Foxconn should end the illegal overtime practices as soon as possible.
- The FLA report recognises that the trade union in place is not representative and consists mainly of management and announces that Foxconn has agreed to ensure elections of workers representatives without management interference. While addressing the need for the existing collective bargaining agreement to be known by all workers, the FLA report fails to address the need for workers to negotiate a new collective agreement that covers all aspects including wages, hours, health and safety. A mechanism of collective bargaining should be put in place that enables workers to negotiate with management on appropriate wage levels.
- Union representatives should be allowed to access training and capacity building that is independent of management to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to advocate on behalf of the workers they represent.
- FLA should start involving local labour groups and relevant international stakeholders in its on-going monitoring efforts to verify compliance to the remediation plans at Foxconn, as well as at other Apple suppliers.
See also earlier public statements published by GoodElectronics and makeITfair on Apple joining the FLA:
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