The Fair Labor Association has just wrapped up its independent audit, commissioned by Apple, of the working conditions at Foxconn. After interviewing over 35,000 workers from three different factories, the FLA said their "nearly month-long investigation revealed serious and pressing noncompliances with FLA’s Workplace Code of Conduct, as well as Chinese labor law." Sounds serious, right? Well, to be fair, the above graph represents the degree to which the Foxconn factories are meeting FLA and standards of national law, and as the FLA had reported earlier, Apple's factories aren't doing particularly bad. The FLA established four major areas where Foxconn needed to improve: working hours, health and safety, industrial relations and worker integration, and compensation and social security insurance.
First, average weekly work hours are beyond the legal limits across all factories, and some employees worked 7 days straight, despite the legal requirement to have at least a single 24-hour break. Foxconn promised to be compliant as of July 1... 2013. Apparently they need to hire more people in order to make up for the hours, which lines up with previous reports of a Foxconn hiring spree.
Secondly, workers felt insecure, especially after that explosion caused by aluminum dust last spring. While Foxconn made safety procedure changes following the incident, they've promised to keep a sharper eye on safety infractions; instead of just keeping records of incidents when work has stopped, they're now going to keep tabs on every employee injury.
Thirdly, Foxconn laborers have no say in who is appointed to representative committees, which means they're more or less puppets to the agendas of managers. To fix that, Foxconn is going to introduce an election process, and to improve their sense of empowerment, Foxconn is going to give a copy of their Collective Bargaining Agreement, and offer union information during orientation of new employees.
Lastly, Foxconn has been illegally putting interns to work for shifts longer than 8 hours, and no more than 5 days a week. As it turns out, Foxconn has had them working night shifts and overtime. Also, 14% of workers are only paid unscheduled overtime by the half hour, so they don't get anything for working 29 minutes. Foxconn promises that they'll knock that down to 15 minutes. Insurance is also an issue. 99% of the workers in two factories are migrants, but since insurance is doled out on a provincial basis, they can't collect if they ever go hom. Foxconn is going to look into private alternatives.
While there's some stuff here that needs to be fixed, none of it sounds insurmountable. Even though it sounds like they're working hard, only 17.7% of respondents said they worked too much, while 33.8% actually wanted to work more. As for the age of workers, the FLA found the average to be around 23, and that the percentage of those aged 16 to 18 to be between 3.6% and 5.5%, depending on the factory.
In any case, it's really good to see a proper report like this, even compared to Nightline's piece. Getting into specific numbers and specific processes gives us a much clearer idea of how Apple is churning out millions of iPhones and iPads. Hopefully this level of scrutiny sets a new bar for other electronics manufacturers in China. It's good that Apple is being proactive in getting the FLA involved, but it's hard to tell if they're getting a little too involved... Would this report have been a little more harsh if Apple wasn't paying them dues to be in the association?
The FLA will be following up on this investigation to make sure the changes are implemented. You can find the FLA's full report, complete with appendices over here. It's definitely worth a gander.