The Fair Labor Association (FLA) released a followup report Tuesday on working conditions at Hon Hai Precision, the parent company of Chinese manufacturer Foxconn, which makes many Apple products and components. In response to an initial report in March, FLA representatives visited Foxconn’s assembly plants in June and July and found that significant progress had been made to address the Association’s initial working condition concerns.
Following the FLA’s March report, and accompanying media criticism, Apple and Foxconn agreed to address the concerns via a 15-month “action plan with defined target dates of completion.” Tuesday’s FLA report reveals that Foxconn is on schedule, and in some areas ahead of schedule, to complete its plan.
“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 Auret van Heerden, President and CEO of the Fair Labor Association. “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.”
Both the March and June/July visits were part of the unannounced independent assessments that now occur at Apple manufacturing facilities since the company joined the FLA in January.
Changes made thus far by Foxconn include reducing total working hours, including overtime, to under 60 hours per week, requiring workers to take scheduled breaks, changing worker equipment and procedures to avoid repetitive stress injuries, updating and replacing old maintenance and safety equipment, testing and installing new emergency equipment such as eyewashes and sprinklers, and consulting with health and safety trainers to educate employees.
“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,” Mr. van Heerden said.
Other groups monitoring working conditions in China have weighed in on the situation as well, and not all of them are as positive about Foxconn’s alleged progress. Human Rights First, the U.S.-based nonprofit human rights organization, congratulated Apple and Foxconn on their progress but stressed that further steps need to be taken. The group pressured Apple to ensure that the all of the company’s suppliers, not just the newsworthy Foxconn, engage in similar improvements and it urged other electronics manufacturers, such as Dell, Amazon, and HP, to follow suit.
Of concern to other labor groups, such as Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, is the question of worker production targets. After Foxconn initially reduced working hours earlier this year, the company failed to simultaneously reduce production quotas. The result was that employees were forced to work as long as they did previously, but without pay, in order to satisfy their supervisors and retain their jobs.
Portions of the FLA report (XLS) discuss working hours and production targets, and recommend that factories should closely “track and monitor Hours of Work,” but there is no discussion of whether employees are actually working more than the hours they are paid and recorded for, something that would be difficult to track in facilities run by potentially unscrupulous managers.
Until that information is known, if ever, the FLA’s and Apple’s own reporting on working conditions will remain difficult to judge.
Teaser graphic via Apple.