Consequences? Bah. Foxconn report shows no sign, critics say

A workers' rights group notes that workplace abuses have continued for years even after Apple itself reported many of the same problems detailed in the new Fair Labor Association audit.

The Fair Labor Association's scathing report of workplace abuses at three Chinese factories of Apple-supplier Foxconn was met with some skepticism by at least one labor-rights watchdog.

The violations in wages and overtime are hardly new, nor are they surprising. After all, Apple itself has documented many of these problems for years on its Supplier Responsibility Web site.

Much of the new report (PDF) acknowledges what's already known -- that workers at three Foxconn factories put in excessive overtime and get paid wages that don't often cover basic needs. But the report lays out no consequences for Foxconn if the violations continue to persist.

"Apple's own auditor has now confirmed that Foxconn never corrected the violations in areas like excessive overtime that were first exposed six years ago," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, a labor-rights group. "It seems that the only penalty for Foxconn is the obligation to promise to do better next time."

The report lays out many new requirements for Foxconn. The company has agreed, for example, to reduce overtime, hire and train new workers to handle the work, and "develop a compensation package that addresses the income lost through reduced hours." The company will allow union nominations and elections to "take place without management involvement," and it will give workers information about the union during their orientation.

"The remedial plans agreed with Apple and Foxconn involve specific deliverables in defined timeframes," the report states. "FLA assessors will verify some items on site and impact assessments will be made of certain aspects -- training in particular -- of the remedial process. Many of those have specific milestones that the FLA will track over time and report on publicly via our website."

It's unclear, though, what happens if Foxconn doesn't follow through, other than more disclosures about violations. Of course, Apple has been disclosing problems for years. And according to the FLA report, they continue.

"The optimistic view would be that neither Apple nor Foxconn were serious back then, but that now they are, because of increased public scrutiny and threats to Apple's reputation," Nova said. "We will not know for sure until we see whether any improvements are actually achieved."

About the author

Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).

 

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