Apple supplier Foxconn improves worker conditions, group says

After reports of dangerous working conditions at Foxconn¿s Chinese factories, Apple and its suppliers agreed to allow the Fair Labor Assn. to inspect three Foxconn facilities in February and March. Above, the Foxconn factory in Chengdu, China.
(Tom Lasseter / McClatchy-Tribune)

One of Apple Inc.’s largest suppliers has improved worker health conditions and safety after a sweeping inspection by a labor watchdog group.

The Fair Labor Assn. said Tuesday that supplier Foxconn Technology Group had successfully completed more than 280 actions recommended this year by the group. Those included reducing workers’ hours, enforcing breaks, changing the design of workers’ equipment, updating maintenance policies and testing emergency equipment.

After reports of suicides and dangerous working conditions at Foxconn’s Chinese factories, Apple and its suppliers agreed to allow the Fair Labor Assn. to inspect three Foxconn facilities in February and March in “one of the most comprehensive and detailed assessments in the history of manufacturing,” the group said. Those audits — which included worker interviews — uncovered “significant issues,” including excessive overtime and health and safety risks.

The organization provided Apple and Foxconn with its findings and recommendations, including a 15-month action plan with target dates for completion.

Independent investigators returned to each of the factories from June 25 to July 6 to verify that those actions had been completed, the group said.

“Our verification shows that the necessary changes, including immediate health and safety measures, have been made,” said Auret van Heerden, chief executive of the Fair Labor Assn., an industry-funded labor-monitoring organization. “We are satisfied that Apple has done its due diligence thus far to hold Foxconn accountable for complying with the action plan.”

Among the changes, Van Heerden said, was an overhaul of Foxconn’s internship program. The Taiwanese company has pledged to ensure that student interns don’t work overtime and that the work they do for the company has “a more direct connection” to their field of study. Interns are also free to leave the internship if they choose.

Workers’ hours were a major cause for concern. The labor group said Foxconn has already reduced employee hours to fewer than 60 per week, including overtime. It plans to bring its factories in full compliance with the Chinese legal limit for working hours by July 2013.

In recent years, worker safety problems have plagued Apple’s secretive Chinese operations, sparking complaints and protests from human rights groups.

Although Apple is reaping big profits, the Chinese workers who manufacture its iPhones, iPads and other products live and work in factory “cities,” critics said. Many toil long hours for low pay in plants that don’t meet health and safety requirements, activists have alleged, and workers’ off hours are spent in cramped dormitories.

Facing mounting criticism, Apple has rushed to position itself as a leader in improving working conditions in its supply chain and making those efforts more transparent.

Foxconn also manufactures parts for many of Apple’s competitors, including Dell Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Inc.