FLA Finds “Significant Issues” at Foxconn’s Apple Factories

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) said on Thursday that its independent audit found “significant issues” with working conditions in some of Foxconn’s Chinese factories that make products for Apple. The group also announced a commitment from Foxconn and Apple to meet legal limits to worker hours and overtime pay, improve safety, and other actions to meet the FLA’s worker code.

“The Fair Labor Association gave Apple’s largest supplier the equivalent of a full-body scan through 3,000 staff hours investigating three of its factories and surveying more than 35,000 workers. Apple and its supplier Foxconn have agreed to our prescriptions, and we will verify progress and report publicly,” Auret van Heerden, President and CEO of the Fair Labor Association, said in a statement.

Apple joined the FLA in January in the face of an outcry over reports of unsafe working conditions in China, excessive hours, and other issues at the Chinese factories to whom Apple and the rest of the computing world outsource their product manufacturing.

That outcry began in earnest after a This American Life report detailed instances of worker abuse, though the show later retracted its report after learning that Mike Daisey had fabricated portions of it. The New York Times also published a detailed report on working conditions in China, a report the newspaper said was not based on Mr. Daisey’s work.

The FLA is an independent non-profit group that audits the factories and working conditions of its members, including Apple. It began inspections in February, and said just a few days into the process that worker conditions at Apple’s contract factories was better than the norm in China.

FLA Chart

FLA Chart Showing Scores at Each of the Three Factories Audited
(Click the image for a larger version) 

The full inspection process, however, found “significant issues” at three factories operated by Foxconn, Apple’s largest manufacturing partner.

“The nearly month-long investigation found excessive overtime and problems with overtime compensation; several health and safety risks; and crucial communication gaps that have led to a widespread sense of unsafe working conditions among workers,” the FLA wrote.

To correct these problems, the FLA got Foxconn and Apple to commit to limiting work weeks to 49 per week by July of 2013, including nine hours of overtime (with overtime pay). Apple itself reported in March an 89 percent compliance with a maximum work week of 60 hours, and that workers averaged some 48 hours per week.

The new commitment would apparently replace the previous code of a maximum 60 hour work week—Chinese law dictates a maximum work week of 49 hours, including nine hours of overtime, in line with the plan put forth by the FLA.

Perhaps more importantly, Foxconn has committed to a compensation package, “that protects workers from losing income due to reduced overtime.” That theoretically means yet another pay raise for its workers, the fourth such raise since 2010. Foxconn has also committed to hiring more workers to maintain its manufacturing capacity for Apple.

Other commitments include reporting all worker accidents, and not just those that resulted in a stoppage, an agreement to provide actual worker representation in its unions, and a promise to properly pay all overtime.

“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,” Mr. van Heerden said.

The FLA put more than 3,000 staff hours into its audit and interviewed 35,000 randomly selected workers. Most of those interviews took place on the factory floor, but they also included some off-site interviews.