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FLA, Apple and Foxconn shake on new deal for Chinese workers

Critics argue some abuses are still being ignored

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Critics, however, argued that the inspection really just uncovered the tip of the iceberg – it only visited three factories initially and there were reports from non-profit group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) that factory bosses were tipped off about the inspections, giving workers extra breaks and hiding underage workers.

Debby Chan, a project officer for Hong Kong-based SACOM, questioned the low number of interns working at the factories during the inspections – 519 compared to an average of 27,000 per month in 2011.

“On page ten, the report concedes that the use of student labour is to cope with the problem of seasonality. However, it has not found cases of interns who were forced to work at Foxconn, the victims of involuntary labour,” she told The Reg.

“The use of student workers seems to be very insignificant in March. There can be two reasons: (1) it is low season in the factories; (2) students were sent away because of the factory inspections.”

Indeed there is no mention of the problem in the accompanying FLA press release aside from vague assurances about adapting the internship program in the future.

Also missing are mentions of the harsh management practices which many believe contributed to the suicides of countless Foxconn staff in the past. Even the word ‘suicide’ is not mentioned once in the report.

Chan argued that while none of the abuses uncovered in the report are new, they may be taken seriously this time.

“The labour rights violations stated in the report have been mentioned a long time ago. Apple simply ignored those issues,” she argued.

“The demand from consumers now for ethical Apple products is an impetus for changes in the supply chain. However, to make the change sustainable, there must be participation from the workers. They should have the right to form genuine unions through democratic elections.”

She also rejected claims that the cost of Apple and other goods could rise as a result of changes to pay and conditions at the factories, saying that labour costs form only a tiny percentage of the final sales price.

In the end, Apple and Foxconn have until July 2013 to make these changes and if consumer pressure continues then the guarantees are likely to be met, but there are few ways to genuinely know what goes on inside these factories without the threat of continuous, unannounced and fully independent inspections.

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for further comment on the news. ®

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