Apple vows to bring Foxconn conditions up to par (again)

The Fair Labor Association has proudly announced that, following its hard-hitting investigation into conditions at Apple’s Foxconn plants, Apple and Foxconn will, er, start to abide by the law.

It says it’s “secured groundbreaking commitments that will reduce working hours to legal limits while protecting pay, improve health and safety conditions, establish a genuine voice for workers, and will monitor on an ongoing basis to verify compliance.”

The investigation confirmed what campaigning groups have been saying for years. The FLA found that all three of the factories surveyed

exceeded the Chinese legal limits of 40 hours per week and 36 hours maximum overtime per month.

As well as the excessive working hours, the FLA found that staff weren’t being paid adequately for overtime, and that health and safety were lacking. Indeed, until now, Foxconn’s only bothered to record accidents that have resulted in a production stoppage.

“Apple and its supplier Foxconn have agreed to our prescriptions, and we will verify progress and report publicly,” says Auret van Heerden, FLA president and CEO.

“If implemented, these commitments will significantly improve the lives of more than 1.2 million Foxconn employees and set a new standard for Chinese factories.”

The FLA isn’t exactly known for hard-hitting reports. Its inspection of a Nike supplier, for example, failed to uncover the fact that staff had accumulated 600,000 hours of unpaid overtime.

And when college T-shirt manufacturer Gildan illegally fired dozens of workers for attempting to organise a trade union, the FLA acknowledged that its actions were illegal, but let it stay on as a member anyway.

Similarly, this latest investigation doesn’t go far enough for Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), which has been documenting labor abuses at Foxconn for years.

“Foxconn is notorious for its harsh management methods, which is one of the factors triggered the spate of suicides in the company in 2010,” it says.

“Yet, the problem of harsh management and work pressure has been tactfully omitted in the report. And the gross violation of forced internship was not addressed at all.”

Still, it’s nice to hear that Apple plans to bring working conditions up to par, now that the FLA has suggested it. Shame it didn’t do it in 2010 or 2011, though, when no fewer than five research reports from SACOM detailed labor abuses at the company.