Apple's Foxconn making progress with factory conditions, says labor group

The Fair Labor Association revisited three Foxconn factories to check changes being made to improve their safety and working conditions

Apple supplier Foxconn has been steadily improving the working conditions at three of its Chinese factories following a February audit, including by reducing employee overtime work and updating maintenance policies and safety procedures, a labor group said on Tuesday.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) released its new report, months after completing its initial audit of three Foxconn factories that found employees worked beyond 60 hours a week, were not always fairly compensated for overtime, along with inconsistencies in healthy and safety procedures. Together, the three factories employ close to 180,000 workers.

The FLA, which revisited the factories from June 25 to July 6, noted that since the February audit, Foxconn has reduced employee working hours to 60 hours a week including overtime. This meets the labor group's code, but still exceeds the Chinese legal limit of 49 hours a week including overtime. Foxconn has however pledged to bring its work hours to the Chinese legal limit by July 2013.

The improvements are part of a long list of "action items" developed by Foxconn and Apple to resolve the problems FLA found at the three factories. So far, Foxconn's three factories have completed all 195 items meant to be addressed by May of this year.

Among the many changes, Foxconn has stopped student interns from working overtime at the factories. The company has also revised and communicated its grievance policy to workers, allowing for problems to be voiced anonymously to management. At the same time, the FLA has worked with Foxconn to make employees better aware of their union.

The audit also helped bring numerous changes to health and safety policies, such as improving the design of workers' equipment to prevent injuries, and introducing scheduled "ergonomic breaks" lasting 10 to 15 minutes meant to relieve stress on workers' bodies.

Despite the progress made, the FLA said challenges still lie ahead for Foxconn in improving its factories, one of which is reducing employee working hours to 49 a week. Foxconn also still has 165 action items the three factories must address by July 2013. But so far, 89 have already been completed, according to the FLA.

In response to the FLA's report, Foxconn noted in a statement the company was ahead of schedule in meeting the list of changes to improve its factories' working conditions. The company also pointed to how the FLA has cited its role in supporting a new regulation, effective January of next year, to extend unemployment insurance to migrant workers in Shenzhen, China, a major Foxconn manufacturing base.

"Our hope is that our efforts will not only benefit Foxconn, but that they will also serve as a model for other companies and help improve working conditions for the manufacturing industry throughout China," said Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn's CEO, in a statement.

The FLA's investigations come as both Foxconn and Apple have received criticism over the years for allegedly allowing poor working conditions at Foxconn factories in China. Earlier this year, The New York Times published a story describing those conditions, which brought further criticism and resulted in Apple asking the FLA to audit Foxconn.

While Tuesday's report noted improvements made at Foxconn's factories, New York-based China Labor Watch said the FLA's investigations only looked at selected factories and not Apple's entire supply chain.

"The harsh working conditions are by no means isolated to just Foxconn, but exist throughout Apple's supply chain," the group said in a statement.

China Labor Watch's own investigations have also found that due to Foxconn's working hour reduction, employees have to complete the equivalent of 66 hours of work within a 60 hour weekly time frame. "As a result, the workers get lower wages, but have to work much harder and they are not satisfied with the current situation," the group said.

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Michael Kan

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