Apple CEO Tim Cook Visits Foxconn (via Reuters)
The working conditions at Apple supplier Foxconn are still poor, and worker rights violations “remain the norm,” according to a report released Thursday by Hong Kong-based labor activist group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). The report contradicts numerous statements by Foxconn management and Apple that conditions were improving, although it supports the Fair Labor Association’s March audit, which found “significant issues” in Foxconn’s Apple factories.
Foxconn and other Asian electronics manufacturers have been criticized in general for many years but new attention was paid early this year to their reportedly inhumane working conditions following a This American Life story based on monologist Mike Daisey’s trips to the factories and the poor conditions he claimed to have witnessed there.
That story was later retracted due to the revelation that Mr. Daisey fabricated some of his information and sources; however, independent examinations by the New York Times and the Fair Labor Association in March supported Mr. Daisey’s claims.
Since then, much attention has been paid to the situation, especially considering the juxtaposition of Apple’s wildly successful and profitable products with extremely low income factory workers who may be facing abuse of even less strict Chinese labor laws.
Foxconn’s management, and in particular parent company chairman Terry Gou, has only fanned the flames with a combination of insensitive or mistranslated comments, including one from January in which Mr. Gou called his 1 million-plus workforce “animals,” and asked the Taipei zookeeper to give tips to his management team on how to control them.
More recently, Mr. Gou drew fire late last month for questioning the very notion that brutal labor conditions are bad: “What’s wrong with sweatshops?” Mr. Gou asked a gathering of Foxconn employees during a visit to Taiwan. “We sweat and bleed, as long as we comply with the law, I believe in reaping what you sow.”
Thursday’s SACOM report suggests that, despite public pledges to the contrary, Foxconn management has done little of substance to improve working conditions. “The frontline management continue to impose humiliating disciplinary measures on workers,” the report stated. “Apple and Foxconn have not turned over a new leaf.”
Other labor advocacy groups agree with SACOM’s findings. Geoffrey Crothall of the China Labor Bulletin, a labor rights group which monitors Foxconn, told Reuters: “I haven’t seen any real evidence of any significant changes. At the moment, they’re just tinkering around the edges and doing PR stunts…”
Foxconn’s employees have not remained silent on the situation, with one telling Reuters that “the work pressure is still great. There hasn’t been much change. We are still being pushed very hard.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that, despite pledges by the company to cut working hours and overtime requirements, employee production targets have not changed, forcing some workers to work unpaid overtime to meet their quotas.
Whether Thursday’s report pushes Apple to take further action with its suppliers remains to be seen. For its part, Foxconn issued a response to the SACOM report: “The welfare of our employees is without a doubt our top priority and we are working hard to give our more than one million employees in China a safe and positive working environment.”