Under intense public pressure, Apple has joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and subsequently opened its suppliers to for factory inspections. After the month-long investigation at Foxconn in Shenzhen and Chengdu, the FLA released the report on Thursday. In the report, FLA pointed out several pressing issues at Foxconn, including, working hours, health and safety, industrial relations, compensation and interns. Foxconn is notorious for its harsh management methods, which is one of the factors triggered the spate of suicides in the company in 2010. Yet, the problem of hash management and work pressure has been tactfully omitted in the report. And the gross violation of forced internship was not addressed at all.
Up to 61% workers expressed work stress
In the appendix of the FLA report, 61.3% of respondents told the researchers that they often suffered from work pressure. And only 26.4% of interviewees disagreed they had work pressure. Over the past 2 years, many Foxconn workers confided in SACOM that they felt like machines and were continually insulted by management. Workers reported that they were sometimes required to write confession letters and copy quotes from the Foxconn CEO as punishment. Workers at the new Foxconn factory in Chengdu were even forced to undergo “military training,” Disappointedly, the FLA has not exposed inhumane treatment at Foxconn in the report.
43% workers experienced or witnessed accidents
Apple and Foxconn have been denying negligence in occupational health and safety. The FLA report reveals systemic violations of work safety at Foxconn as over 40% of respondents experienced or witnessed accidents in the factories. Besides accidents, SACOM is disturbed by the threat of occupational diseases on the production lines of Foxconn. Throughout SACOM’s research in the past 2 years, overwhelming majority of the interviewees did not know what kind of chemicals that they were using. There should not be any tolerance in work hazards on the shop floor.
Play down the issue of forced internship
Vocational school students majoring in subjects such as tourism, language and journalism often end up with “internships” at Foxconn for three to twelve months. The student interns are used as flexible labour at Foxconn in the peak season. Sometimes, punishment will be imposed if the students refused the irrelevant internship at Foxconn. The FLA described the problem of abusive use of student workers as “controversial”. Yet, it has never addressed the issue of forced and bogus internship. Meanwhile, it has stressed that Foxconn has been providing protection for the student interns. And in the FLA’s recommendation, it has not urged Foxconn to scrap the bogus internship. In this way, it allows Foxconn to continue to exploit the student workers.
Decrease overtime but increase production target
A few workers complained that their overall wage has not significantly increased even with the pay rise. Recently, Foxconn has decreased the overtime work which is a positive move. However, the basic salary is not high enough for workers to meet their basic needs. Even worse, the workers have to work faster to meet the new production target which also intensifies work pressure.
High turnover rate at Foxconn
Turnover rate is a key indicator of job satisfaction. The FLA report stated that one of the causes of excessive overtime is the high turnover rate at Foxconn. Nevertheless, the FLA has not revealed the figure on the turnover rate. In 2010, among 420,000 workers in Shenzhen, only 20,000 have seniority of 5 years. About half of the workforce, 220,000 workers, has only joined Foxconn for less than 6 months. The turnover rate is about 35% per year, according to the Shenzhen Federation of Trade Unions. The turnover rate is expected to be lower compares to the past 2 years, but it is still a concern raised by the FLA. Given that the turnover rate at Foxconn is high, SACOM considers it is because of the hardships in the factories which have not been addressed by the FLA report.
Democratic elections for unions
The FLA admitted that the existing unions at Foxconn are dominated by the management. It is evident that the unions do not aim to defend the interest of the workers but the image of the company. SACOM sincerely hopes that Apple and Foxconn can commit to facilitate democratic elections in the trade unions which will enable workers to monitor the working conditions by themselves. In the report, no specific timetable is given on the reform of the union. The remedial action should be launched as soon as possible.
Identifying problems at Foxconn and other Apple suppliers is only the first step. The real test of ethical labour practice is the implementation of the remedial actions. SACOM strongly demands the workers and the public should have the right to know the remedial actions. Furthermore, there should be effective channels for workers to report the grievances to Apple directly. Therefore, the reform of union should be carried out without delay.