Foxconn Exploits Workers: What Should Apple Do?
An independent review by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) issued on Thursday has found violations in wages and overtime at three Chinese Foxconn factories that make Apple products. The FLA found that hours for individual workers “exceeded” 60 per week; Foxconn said that, by July 1, 2013, workers will not work more than 49 hours.
Foxconn also makes electronic devices for other companies including Hewlett-Packard. Apple had requested the independent review after numerous media reports (including an extensive New York Times article) about hazardous working conditions and a notable increase in worker suicides.
Also last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook visited a newly built Foxconn’s factory that employs 120,000 people and met with Chinese government officials. He was also sighted in the Joy City Apple Store in Beijing, talking to employees and looking at products. While Cook did not elaborate about the purpose of his visit, Steven Musil on CNET notes that “speculation was rampant” that he was in China’s capital to “discuss the company’s next-generation iPhone with China Telecom and China Unicom, two of that country’s largest carriers.” Apple does not seem to be in any hurry to change its relations with China and Chinese companies.
Will the FLA report really make any changes in how Apple products are made?
Scott Nova, executive director of the labor rights watchdog group Workers Rights Consortium, points out to CNET that Apple and Foxconn have been “promising to end labor rights abuses like excessive overtime since 2006.” Debby Chan Sze Wan, the project officer with Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, also notes that the labor violations described in the report are hardly new discoveries but have been “mentioned a long time ago” and simply ignored by Apple. A consumer watchdog group, SumOfUs, says that the report is just “whitewash” written by a “business-funded group with a long track record of serving as a corporate mouthpiece,” notes CNET.
The Atlantic lists a number of “hard questions” that Apple still faces, including whether or not to allow the FLA to assess the 155 other suppliers for its products; whether it will actually force Foxconn and other suppliers to comply with recommendations; whether Apple’s example will force other tech companies such as IBM and Dell to see that similar investigations are carried out by their supplies. If Foxconn hires more workers to make the same amount of products, will Foxconn eat the costs? or will Apple? or will they be passed onto Western consumers in the form of higher-priced devices?
Complicating these issues are reports that Foxconn workers have not been so sure that the reforms are to their benefit, as working fewer hours means they will earn less. Reuters quotes 25-year-old Chen Yamei who has worked at Foxconn for four years and says that “We are here to work and not to play, so our income is very important.”
If Foxconn were to pay its workers more per hour, who would pay for those additional costs? Are Western consumers willing to pay more for their iProducts to ensure fair working conditions for people in other countries?
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Photo of Apple store in Beijing by o d b