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

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.