News / USA

Analysts Question Apple Labor Audit at Foxconn Factories

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook (L) visits the iPhone production line at the newly built Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, March 28, 2012 handout photo.
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook (L) visits the iPhone production line at the newly built Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, March 28, 2012 handout photo.
Ivan Broadhead
HONG KONG —  An audit shows working conditions have improved at Chinese factories that make Apple electronic devices. But critics said more work is still needed before the plants meet standards set by Chinese law.

The Fair Labor Association commended Apple and its principal manufacturing contractor, Foxconn, for improving factory safety and moving to reduce maximum working hours at three plants in China that employ over 150,000 people.
 
Apple was the first electronics firm to join the FLA after the company’s reputation was bruised by a wave of worker suicides at Foxconn plants starting in 2010, and a fatal factory explosion last year.
 
Anita Chan of the Center for Social and Cultural Change in China Investment at the Sydney University of Technology, acknowledged progress. However she questioned the credibility of the report, given that the FLA is funded by its members, including Apple.
 
“The history of auditing, this voluntary-code rhetoric, has totally failed," she said. "In 2007 a trade union was set up inside Foxconn, but the suicides are evidence things did not change. There is lots of media attention paid to certain violations for a couple of months, then things return to normal.”
 
The audit demands Foxconn make 360 improvements to its factories before July 2013. A majority have been implemented, including ergonomic breaks to prevent repetitive strain injuries among staff, and reform of the internship program to end student overtime.
 
A majority of Foxconn’s one million employees in China are rural migrants, who move to the cities to earn as much money in as short a time as possible.
 
Ironically, many of these workers might leave the company for less scrupulous employers once Foxconn conforms to laws limiting the working week to 40 hours from the current 60.  
 
Earl Brown of the U.S. Solidarity Center is a veteran labor lawyer who testified to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China last month. He had concerns about the audit’s methodology and said staff must feel secure expressing their views to management.
 
“Workers add an important informational component to the compliance picture," said Brown. "When you have the prospect of Foxconn lining up its employees, giving them iPads and telling them to answer 50 questions from an outside auditing agency, employees fear the answers can be traced to them - if they answer negatively they will be fired. That is the fundamental flaw.”

Brown said China has made considerable progress in labor policy, even leading the U.S. in areas including worker maternity rights. But with growth slowing in China, worker rights could erode rather than improve as employers seek to maintain their profit margins.

Beijing's social dilemma

Beijing’s concern about the link between worker unrest and social instability, driving increasingly progressive reforms to protect the nation’s workforce, said Mike Lee, China spokesperson for Social Accountability International.
 
In the southern city of Shenzhen, for instance, a pilot project administered by the country’s only legally recognized union, the AFCTU, was recently established in which workers can elect their own representatives.  

“The new generation of workers, from the 1980s, 1990s, is very independent. [They] are more empowered but communications [with employers] are worse. That could be a real problem. Expect more strikes,” said Lee.  

Labor strikes unlikely
 
Although strikes are already increasingly common in China as workers better understand their rights and seek to protect them, neither Lee nor Chan see labor-related protests evolving into broader expressions of discontent at China’s political leadership.

“Generally, this has not been the case with strikes," said Chan. "The anger is directed at the employers. The workers actually petition the government for help.”
 
Labor costs mean China is becoming increasingly expensive for Foxconn, which has more than a million staff in the country on its payroll.
 
As the iPhone 5 moves towards production, the company is looking for cheaper manufacturing bases. In July, Indonesia’s industry minister announced the Taiwanese giant would invest $10 billion to build a plant on the main island of Java.
 
Despite Indonesia being the largest economy in southeast Asia, the country’s workers enjoy lower salaries than their Chinese counterparts, and fewer protections in the workplace.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs