Foxconn found wanting, but focus still on AppleMay 2012
The keenly-awaited results of an investigation into Apple supplier Foxconn’s labour practices has confirmed ‘serious and pressing’ abuses, though the Chinese company has accepted recommended improvements.
The Fair Labor Association (FLA) – appointed by Apple to audit its entire supply chain in China after a number of workplace scandals – has concluded that Foxconn, the first company to be investigated, had enforced excessive and unpaid overtime, allowed ‘numerous’ health and safety risks, and blocked worker representation. The company, already infamous after a string of suicides in 2010 allegedly linked with working conditions, said it reported workplace accidents only if they halted production.
The FLA said Foxconn has been flouting not only international labour standards, but also Chinese law. The report, which includes publicly available interviews with more than 35,000 workers, also lists unfair pay and the abuse of internships.
However, Foxconn has agreed to remedial action suggested by the FLA. This includes a working week limit of 49 hours, safety improvements to operating procedures, the recording of all accidents causing injury and the removal of management interference in staff representation.
Foxconn said it is “committed to work[ing] with Apple to carry out the remediation programme, developed by both our companies”. Other multinationals supplied by Foxconn, such as Amazon and Hewlett-Packard, will also be affected by the changes.
FLA president Auret van Heerden said: “Apple and its supplier Foxconn have agreed to our prescriptions, and we will verify progress and report publicly … If implemented, these commitments will significantly improve the lives of more than 1.2 million Foxconn employees and set a new standard for Chinese factories.”
Although Apple has been applauded for allowing the FLA to investigate its factories, some critics have said part of the supply chain problem lies closer to home. John Ruggie, the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, said companies such as Foxconn are not solely to blame for labour violations as their behaviour depends on that of their purchaser.
“Imposing stricter conditions on suppliers alone isn’t going to solve this problem,” said Ruggie. “The brands also have to acknowledge their role and change their own practices accordingly. All major brands that source their products overseas, including Apple, have supplier codes of conduct. The time has come for them also to consider codes of responsible ordering practices.”
The Chinese government, too, appears to have put the focus on Apple itself. After a meeting in Beijing with Apple’s new chief executive Tim Cook, vice-premier Li Keqiang said the company should “pay more attention to caring for workers”.
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