Foxconn fights sweatshop image

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Foxconn fights sweatshop image

Chinese manufacturer Foxconn has improved working conditions at one of its plants as part of a deal with high-profile partner Apple to fix its image as a sweatshop.

A wave of reports emerged earlier this year alleging Foxconn-owned facilities were subjecting workers to unjust conditions when churning out Apple’s popular iPad and iPhone products.

Apple in March commissioned the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to look into the issue. It found staff were working excessive overtime for not enough pay, and in some cases weren’t being compensated for physical harm.

Foxconn this week announced it had raised salaries by more than 16 percent at its plant in Zhengzhou, as well as halving the probation period for new workers, reports Bloomberg.

Entry-level employees had their monthly salaries increased from 1550 yuan ($A234) to 1800 yuan from the start of this month. Probation was cut from six months to three.

Production workers will be paid more during peak months, with an additional 200 yuan per month paid during August to November.

Base-level salaries will rise between 250 yuan and 350 yuan per month.

FLA findings

Apple CEO Tim Cook visited the Foxconn Zhengzhou factory in March, pledging not to turn a blind eye to problems in Apple’s supply chain.

Foxconn has been repeatedly accused of worker abuse leading to suicides.

The FLA investigation, released late March, involved the questioning of 35,000 Foxconn workers across the Chengdu, Longhua and Guanlan factories. 

It found average hours worked per week were 56, compared to the legal Chinese limit of 49 hours.

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.

Forty-three 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. 

Although Foxconn paid workers above minimum wage, staff told the FLA their salary was not enough to meet basic needs. Starting salary at Foxconn is 1800 yuan per month, compared to the Shenzen minimum wage of 1300 yuan.

The report forced a commitment from Foxconn to properly comply with Chinese legal limits and FLA standards on working hours by July 2013. Foxconn pledged to reduce working hours to 49 per week including overtime. 

"We appreciate the work the FLA has done to assess conditions at Foxconn and we fully support their recommendations," an Apple spokesperson said at the time.

"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.

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