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?

Related Care2 Coverage

Mike Daisey’s Lies Must Not Make Us Apathetic or Cynical

Under Pressure, Foxconn Agrees To Raise Wages, Cut Overtime

Chinese Workers Make $8 Per iPad



Photo of Apple store in Beijing by o d b


William C.
William C.5 years ago

@Bob R. "I have recently read an analysis that shows that Apple makes obscenely large profits on its products. They could easily double production costs by looking after their workers better, and STILL make a very large profit per item."

And Apple is pushing Foxconn to do just that. Out of altruism?

No.... you see, Apple has enough of a profit margin to easily absorb higher wages at Foxconn.

But Dell and HP ALSO have products made by Foxconn. And THEY don't have such good profit margins.

If Foxconn does what Apple wants, improves conditions and raises wages, that looks good for Apple. And it hurts the competition.

Dell has to raise the cost of their products, which have been subsidized by cheap labor for years. And that makes Apple products look like a better deal.

We've been buying electronics for a fraction of their true cost for quite a while now.

You might find this thought-provoking. Of all the original Computer makers from the 80's, who is still in business making computers?

Apple refused to do price-cutting. IBM, Acer, Sharp, HP, Compaq, Blue Diamond, Leading Edge, all went to war over prices.

IBM doesn't make computers anymore. HP bought Compaq, and is getting out. Sharp no longer makes computers.

Acer bought Gateway and Packard Bell.

Dell came along later.

So Apple is one of the few originals left making money.

William C.
William C.5 years ago



Andrew, you're a dolt.

The number of suicides at a factory with 800,000 people bothers you? I suspect you didn't do well in Math.

These are jobs that the Chinese desperately WANT. That should tell you how poor Chinese peasants are, that making fifty cents an hour is considered great.

The suicide RATE for Foxconn employees is lower than for unemployed Chinese peasants.

Sadly, our own Armed Forces see one suicide a DAY.

And here's the topper: if your claim that there are "better" and cheaper products available for "not even a fraction" of the cost of an Apple product... where are they being MADE, Andrew?

China, perhaps? Brazil, Singapore? Or do YOU have a smartphone made in America?

Better and cheaper are not the same thing.

William C.
William C.5 years ago

Apple signed with Foxconn in the first place because they could supply 10,000 engineers, 30,000 trained technicians, and hundreds of thousands of assembly workers.

We stopped emphasizing Math and Science in America sometime around 1985-ish.

That looks to be reversing itself, but it takes six years past the prereqs in college to train an Engineer.

And we do NOTHING to encourage college attendance in this Country. We just expect the student to eat the giant student loan debt and spend half their working life paying it off.

While in most of Europe, especially Germany, the financially stable core of Europe, College is FREE.

So where was Apple supposed to get 10,000 Engineers at the drop of a hat?

If they trained their own, they'd just NOW be ready.

Apple DOES have enough power now to shake things up. They can create their own Apple University; they can build an iPad assembly plant here in the USA and make a start at diverting some of the robotic assembly and packaging here.

But it's going to be a gradual process, and it would sure help if the Federal Government re-established import tariffs.

Brazil decided they were going to do just that, and suddenly Foxconn was knocking on their door offering to build an iPhone factory THERE.

It's just a matter of knowing how to apply a little "incentive" to business to get them moving in the right direction for our country.

This "laissiez-faire" Capitalism we're stuck in never works that well.

Robert A.
Robert Appere5 years ago

Please see protest "What if Apple made one product in the US".

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons5 years ago

why don't they start making products in the US again?

KS Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Ang H.
angie Harper5 years ago

bravo yes.....they are certainly rich enough to do so. MOVE BACK TO AMERICA OR PEOPLE boycott the products until they listen. Do you trust the Chinese trade, sorry first hand experience with them says A BIG NO.
They use the fact that you are so far away. I BOYCOTT ALI EXPRESS AND ALIBABA !!!!!
the company they promote ripped me and so many more others to, do not touch

3F,Building 2A,area B,Hekan industrial zone,NO 41,Wuhe South Road,Bantian,Longgang District,Shenzhen

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

What should Apple do? Move the production back to America -- take less in profit and pay American workers a living wage. We need the manufacturing jobs.

Deborah Q.
Deborah Q.5 years ago

Yes, these practices are a problem. But really, for whom? No matter where a product is made, if we want it we will buy it no matter what. We can barely maintain fair working practices and pay here in our own country, so where does that gives us the right to think we can make a difference in the treatment in other countries of their workers. We can't. Sure, don't buy the product but these countries, especially if it is a communist country, will do whatever they want. That's why they are the way they are. Are we going to take on the entire world because we don't like or agree with their politics, or their treatment of their people/employees? There is always someone who will buy, and the country will just tell us you don't like it, take a hike...

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 years ago