Apple and Foxconn have improved working conditions at Chinese factories that make most of the world's iPads and iPhones, according to auditors the firms enlisted to monitor the process.
The Fair Labor Association published a status report verifying implementation of action items after assessments conducted by the FLA at three facilities of Apple?s largest supplier, Foxconn. This verification reviewed items slated for April and May, finding that Foxconn has completed all of the 195 actions that were due. In addition, 89 action items were completed ahead of their deadlines. The remaining 76 items are due over the course of the next year.
In February and March 2012, FLA conducted a full body scan to establish a baseline of working conditions and compliance with labor laws at three Foxconn facilities in one of the most comprehensive and detailed assessments in the history of manufacturing. Apple and Foxconn accepted the FLA's findings and recommendations and created a robust 15-month action plan with defined target dates of completion. Independent investigators engaged by FLA returned to each of the facilities from June 25 to July 6, 2012, to verify completion of the action items due.
Apple was the first electronics company to join the FLA, a coalition of universities, non-governmental organizations and businesses committed to improving the well-being, safety, fair treatment, and respect of workers, in January of 2012.
"Our verification shows that the necessary changes, including immediate health and safety measures, have been made. We are satisfied that Apple has done its due diligence thus far to hold Foxconn accountable for complying with the action plan, including the commitment to reform its internship program," said Auret van Heerden, President and CEO of the Fair Labor Association. "When we finished our initial investigation in March, Foxconn promised to address concerns with its internship program by ensuring that student interns do not work overtime, their work has a more direct connection to their field of study, and they understand that they are free to terminate the internship if and when they wish."
FLA also found that Foxconn took steps to bring its factories into full compliance with Chinese legal limits on working hours by July 2013. Foxconn has already reduced hours to under 60 per week (including overtime) with the goal of reaching full compliance with the Chinese legal limit of 40 hours per week plus an average of 9 hours of overtime per week while protecting worker compensation. This commitment was one of the most significant to flow from the assessments.
"The next phase of improvements will be challenging for Foxconn because they involve major changes in the working environment that will inevitably cause uncertainty and anxiety among workers. As Foxconn prepares to comply with the Chinese legal limits on work hours, consultation with workers on the changes and implications will be critical to a successful transition," said van Heerden.
FLA's verification found that many physical changes to improve worker health and safety were made during this period, including the enforcement of ergonomic breaks, changing the design of workers' equipment to guard against repetitive stress injuries, updating of maintenance policies to ensure equipment is working properly, and testing of emergency protective equipment like eyewashes and sprinklers. Foxconn has also engaged consultants to provide health and safety training for all employees.
Foxconn helped to extend unemployment insurance coverage for migrant workers working in Shenzhen by advocating for legislation that will allow them to access the unemployment insurance scheme, effective January 1, 2013. This change has implications not only for those employed at Foxconn, but for all other migrant workers in Shenzhen.
"The verification confirmed that Apple and Foxconn are ahead of schedule in improving the conditions under which some of the world's most popular electronics are being made," said van Heerden. "Apple and Foxconn's progress since the March assessment, combined with the additional actions planned through July 2013, would create the roadmap for all Chinese suppliers in the tech industry."
Detailed status updates on each item from the action plans for the three factories can be found at http://www.fairlabor.org/report/foxconn-remediation-verification.
Global protests against Apple swelled after reports spread in 2010 about the suicides at Foxconn plants, blamed on harsh working conditions and alienation felt by migrant laborers in mShenzhen, which is home to two of the three factories the FLA inspected.