Four-year probe finds Foxconn's Apple 11 factory 'routinely' flouts Chinese labour laws

Fruity firm denies abuses uncovered by undercover staff

An investigation by China Labor Watch has found Foxconn's Apple 11 factory is "routinely" and "repeatedly" breaking Chinese labour laws which limit employment of temporary staff.

The exhaustive investigation saw several people working in the factory to uncover abuses, with one individual placed there for more than four years.

The report found a big increase in Foxconn's use of dispatch workers – short-term staff hired during peak season – since 2016. Some of these are university and secondary school students forced to work overtime or risk losing qualifications – as detailed in a previous report.

Dispatch workers are hired via third-party companies. These staffers are promised bonuses for signing up to make iPhones, but this money is often not paid, the report stated.

Chinese law restricts dispatch workers to 10 per cent of total staff and their overtime is meant to be limited to 36 hours a month. Both of these limits are being ignored by Foxconn, according to the report, with dispatch staff making up as much as 50 per cent of total staff at peak times. Dispatch workers are paid more than permanent staff but have far fewer rights and are dismissed when peak demand is over. Hiring temporary staff means Foxconn does not have to increase wages across the board in order to attract more staff.

Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, said: "Apple and Foxconn know that the issue with dispatch workers is in violation of labor laws, but because it is profitable to hire dispatch workers, they haven't addressed the issue. They have allowed these violations to continue over the years."

Other claims in the report

China Labor Watch also alleged that staff X-raying phones to check they have been assembled correctly wear a radiation-monitoring device but no protective equipment, which is among several claims in the report that both Foxconn and Apple have denied to several media orgs, with Cupertino branding them "mostly false". Both Apple and Foxconn have, however, confirmed they employed too many temporary workers.

The report also accused Apple's supplier of failing to follow the law for its permanent staff. This included allegations that staffers were not allowed to resign during peak season, that if they wanted to quit during the three-month probation period they had to give three days' notice, and that they needed permission to not work overtime.

China Labor Watch noted that Apple had happily removed 25,000 applications from its store and has shifted Chinese users' iCloud accounts to local data centres in order to follow Chinese law, but seemed unwilling to also fulfil its legal obligations to Chinese factory workers.

The Zhengzhou Foxconn factory, known as "iPhone City", sprawls over 1.4 million square metres and produces half the world's iPhones. Wages have stayed stable over the time of the investigation at a base salary of $239 a month, which is not enough to provide for a family in Zhengzhou. While social insurance payments have increased, they still fall short of legal requirements and safety training has been reduced, China Labor Watch claimed. In 2018, the factory employed 88, 000 people, 49,000 of whom were dispatch workers without contracts.

Staff can choose to sleep in eight-person dormitory rooms and pay $21 a month but they are usually full in peak season, and most staff rent nearby apartments.

The full report is available here.

We have contacted Apple and will update this story if it responds. ®

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