Open Mic Section

KC JOURNAL NO 30 JULY 2012

In this article China Labor Watch* discusses the sweatshops at Foxcom factories that produce Apple computers.

Keeping Pressure on apple to Promote real Changes at apple and Foxconn

First, I want to thank Mr. Ross Eisenbrey for the opportunity to share my experiences about protecting workers’ rights in China. Over the past 11 years, I have been in the US advocating for the rights of Chinese workers through my organisation China Labour Watch. I am sorry that I can only speak limited English and thus require a translator to assist me.

Sweatshops

Recently, Tim Cook and Auret van Heerden, the CEOs of Apple and FLA, respectively, have both denied that Foxconn factories qualify as sweatshops. The traditional definition of sweatshops is any factory where workers work in a tough and dangerous environment; they may be exposed to hazardous materials, extreme temperatures, or radiation, and must work long working hours for low wages. However, this definition must be modified for modern society.

At Foxconn workers are treated like machines, and they can only earn enough to live on by working excessive overtime. The labour intensity at Foxconn is inhumanly high, and the working environment is indifferent and harsh. The value of human life is disregarded, and workers are regularly pushed beyond their physical and emotional limits. I believe such a factory is a ìsweatshop.

I’d like everyone to imagine a factory in the US where a worker must work on his feet ten hours a day. He lives thousands of miles away from home and cannot return to see his family for years on end because the factory does not offer him sufficient leave. His base salary is not enough to cover his most basic expenses so he is forced to work overtime. However, his overtime salary is often withheld, or even unpaid. He is constantly abused verbally by his managers. After several years of work, he will be forced to leave his position because he can no longer keep up with the intense pace of the job. What do you think of this American factory? Is it a sweatshop or not?

Investigation

In 2006, China Labor Watch helped a journalist organise a visit to Foxconn. After the journalist reported the working conditions in Foxconn, Apple did a follow-up investigation. Here is an excerpt from Apple’s 2006 audit report of Foxconn:

Keeping Pressure on Apple to Promote Real Changes at Apple and Foxconn In this article China Labor Watch* discusses the sweatshops at Foxconn factories that produce Apple computers. We did find that employees worked longer hours than permitted by our Code of Conduct, which limits normal work weeks to 60 hours and requires at least one day off each week. We reviewed seven months of records from multiple shifts of different productions lines and found that the weekly limit was exceeded 35% of the time and employees worked more than six consecutive days 25% of the time.

In the report, Apple also wrote that they were not satisfied with the living conditions of three of the offsite leased dorms that we visited. In our investigation, China Labor Watch found that in some cases 300 people lived in the same dorm.

Looking at the report, it is clear that Apple discovered many of the problems addressed in the FLA report as early as 2006. However, our follow-up investigations in the past 5 years found that the only real improvement was with dorm conditions. Workers now live eight people to a dorm room instead of 300 people.

As for wage increases, I have not seen much improvement over the last couple of years. From 2004 to 2010, the basic monthly salary for Foxconn workers increased from RMB 380 to RMB 1200 [chinese currency]. In 2010 after a series of worker suicides, Foxconn increased its basic monthly salary to RMB 1550. While these figures may seem impressive, they do not take into account China’s rapid inflation. If Foxconn did not increase its salary, it would be unable to recruit enough young workers to work under such high work intensity.

The working hours are decreasing at Foxconn. In 2004, workers worked on average 320 to 350 hours per month. By last year, this number had already fallen to 280 hours per month. However, less overtime only means higher work intensity. Workers now need to finish 11 hours of work in 10 hours. In our investigation, the workers often feel exhausted, which is proved by the high turnover rate of workers at Foxconn. To evaluate if the increase of salary and the decrease of overtime at Foxconn is a real improvement, we need to use two indicators. First, is the workers’ basic salary enough to maintain a basic lifestyle?

Second, are the workers satisfied with the working intensity? Independent organisations can obtain this information by interviewing or surveying workers in the factories. If these two indicators show no progress, then the increase in salary and decrease in overtime is not actually improving workers’ conditions. China Labor Watch just finished a report on 10 Apple suppliers in China. We are compiling the report now and will release the report in the near future.

Apple must take responsibility In Apple’s 2012 Progress Report on Apple Supplier Responsibility, the same problems remain unresolved. However, Apple shirked its own responsibility by simply blaming the supplier for not obeying Apple’s standards. However, Apple exerts great control and influence on its suppliers; any improvement in the factories will have to start from Apple. If Apple does not increase the order price for its suppliers, the suppliers can only make marginal profits and are thus unable to improve working conditions. Therefore, Apple, rather than Foxconn or other Apple suppliers, should be responsible for the working conditions in its supplier factories.


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