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Apple and Foxconn back under fire for working conditions

Nothing's changed two months on from FLA deal, says group

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Apple and Foxconn have yet to make significant changes to labour practices after Chinese employees complained of unpaid overtime, bullying and unsafe conditions - that's according to not-for-profit group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM).

SACOM levelled the accusations in its Sweatshops are good for Apple and Foxconn, but not for workers report after visiting Foxconn’s Shenzhen and Zhangzou plants during the period March to May 2012.

The group says its accusations are based on the following methodology:

From March to May 2012, SACOM researchers conducted investigations around Foxconn’s production sites in [the Chinese cities] Zhengzhou and Shenzhen. Over 170 workers were interviewed. All the respondents in Zhengzhou and Guanlan, Shenzhen, produce the iPhone. Meanwhile, about 50 per cent of interviewees from Longhua and Songgang factories in Shenzhen are on Apple’s production lines. Apart from a few frontline supervisors and assistant line leaders, 90 per cent of the interviewees are production workers.

The report makes many of the same allegations levelled at Foxconn and Apple in previous years.

The group also makes a new claim that assets salaries have actually fallen after recent pay increases because overtime work was also cut:

The report says basic salaries for Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou and Shenzhen are CNY 1550 (USD$244) and CNY 1800 (USD$284) per month respectively. Most of the workers are discontented with the so-called pay rise because their overall salary has decreased or remained the same. Workers had high expectations that their living standards would be improved with the pay rise but have been disappointed.

The report added that some workers had been forced to work 80 hours a month of unpaid overtime to meet high production targets and claimed that in the run up to the release of the new iPad, workers were denied leave for the Chinese New Year.

The allegations come after the FLA hailed a new deal at the end of March in which it claimed to have obtained assurances from Apple and Foxconn that sweeping changes would be made to pay and conditions.

However, the new rules don’t have to come into force until July 2013, so the two firms still technically have over a year before they need to make changes.

On the salary front, Foxconn has already agreed to develop a compensation package to ensure workers are protected from the loss of income incurred by reduced overtime, and that workers cheated out of overtime payments would be retroactively paid according to the results of an audit.

The FLA also said it is conducting a cost of living study to make sure that workers’ salaries meet its requirements for basic needs.

More embarrassing are the allegations about excessive overtime, something Apple said it is already “micro-managing” to reduce monthly overtime from 80 to 36 hours.

A SACOM statement had the following:

After the FLA’s report, Apple and Foxconn agreed to carry out remedial actions to rectify some of the problems. However, they never pledged to compensate the workers for the labour laws violations and failure to fulfil the code of conduct over the years. In this way, Apple and Foxconn avoid all costs for the labour rights violations. SACOM is deeply worried that Apple and Foxconn may continue these violations because that reduces labour costs.

It renewed calls for the formation of democratically elected trade unions; a review of management methods; labour rights training for workers; compensation for victims of non-compliance with Apple’s code of conduct; and a “living wage” for all workers.

Debby Chan, a project officer at Hong Kong-based SACOM, told The Reg that Apple’s “unethical buying practices” in the supply chain have led to the squeezing of unit prices and shortening of delivery times, forcing excessive overtime on workers.

“Consumers and workers should work together to end Apple's sweatshop. Consumers can demand a profit-sharing mechanism between Apple and the workers,” she added.

“At the same time, the workers should have the right to unionise and collective bargaining so workers can have decent working conditions through negotiation with the company. The Foxconn workers in Brazil who produce iPhones have much better working conditions because of that.”

A Foxconn statement said it was “fully committed to ensuring that [employees] have a safe, satisfactory and healthy working environment”.

Foxconn has participated fully and openly in this review and we are working closely with the FLA to carry out a remediation program to continuously improve the working environment for our employees and to ensure they are treated with respect. This is in addition to the policies and programs we have instituted over the last two years to ensure that our workers in China have the support they need to deal with challenges they face inside and outside the workplace.

Apple could not immediately be reached for comment. ®

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