An audit into factories churning out Apple products has found employees are working excessive overtime, are underpaid and in some circumstances, not being compensated for physical harm.
Apple last month commissioned the Fair Labour Association (FLA) to conduct a month-long audit into working conditions at Chinese factories run by the controversial Taiwanese-based manufacturing giant Foxconn. The company has been repeatedly accused of worker abuse leading to suicides.
After a visit to Foxconn’s Zhengzhou Technology Park in China last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged not to "turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain”, following a report slamming Apple and other companies using Foxconn’s factories for not pushing for better working conditions.
The FLA investigation, released late last week, resulted in the questioning of 35,000 Foxconn workers across the Chengdu, Longhua and Guanlan factories and found average hours worked per week were 56, compared to the legal Chinese limit of 49 hours, which includes overtime. Foxconn pays overtime in 30 minute increments, meaning workers completing up to 29 minutes of overtime do not get paid.
Half the interviewed workers reported working more than eleven days in a row, and during peak production periods, the average number of hours worked per week exceeded 60 hours per worker. No instances of forced or child labour were discovered.
The report forced a commitment from Foxconn to properly comply with Chinese legal limits and FLA standards on working hours by July 2013. It has pledged to reduce working hours to 49 per week including overtime.
While Foxconn pays workers above minimum wage, staff complained to the FLA their salary was not enough to meet basic needs. Starting salary at Foxconn is 1,800RMB per month or $A274, compared to the Shenzen minimum wage of 1,300RMB, about $A198.
Average reported salaries range between 2257RMB (A$344) to 2872RMB ($A438) across the three factories.
The FLA found 43 percent of workers surveyed had witnessed or experienced an accident, ranging from hand injuries to factory vehicle accidents, and felt concerned about the protection of their health and safety.
The company previously only recorded accidents which resulted in production stopping. It has pledged to immediately begin reporting all accidents resulting in injury.
The FLA said other health and safety issues, including blocked exits, missing or faulty personal protective equipment and missing permits were corrected during the investigation.
Apple announced over the weekend it would work with Foxconn to enforce better working conditions at the factories of its biggest manufacturer, despite the likelihood prices for its popular devices would rise.
Apple and Foxconn will together hire “tens of thousands” of new workers to compensate for reduced hours, and build additional housing and canteens to accommodate the influx of staff, Reuters reports.
"We appreciate the work the FLA has done to assess conditions at Foxconn and we fully support their recommendations," an Apple spokesperson said."We share the FLA's goal of improving lives and raising the bar for manufacturing companies everywhere."
Other global vendors utilising Foxconn and its 1.2 million workers are yet to join the crusade. The likes of HP, Dell, Microsoft, Sony, Nokia and Acer all depend on Foxconn’s factories to pump out their latest devices, and HP boss Meg Whitman told Reuters the Apple-Foxconn agreement could have a significant flow-on effect.
"If Foxconn's labor cost goes up ... that will be an industry-wide phenomenon and then we have to decide how much do we pass on to our customers versus how much cost do we absorb," she said in February.
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Issue: 347 | March 2016