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Foxconn working conditions slammed by workers rights group

Hardware giant still forcing its factory workers to toil under difficult conditions, according to a new report.

Foxconn employees working on Apple products.
Foxconn employees working on Apple products.

Exhausting workloads, humiliating discipline, and cramped dormitories are still "the norm" for workers at Foxconn factories in China, according to a report released today that details alleged working conditions at the manufacturing giant.

Managers at the company, which manufactures hardware for companies such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Sony, often discipline factory workers by forcing them to write and read aloud "confession letters" and to clean toilets, according to a report released by the workers rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).

The report, which is based on interviews with 170 workers and supervisors at Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Zhengzhou between March and May, found that while most workers were previously forced to stand while working on the assembly line, they were now provided a stool. However, they have been instructed to sit on one-third of the chair "to remain nimble."

It also found that the reduction in overtime hours has led to higher production targets and unpaid overtime work. One female worker who examines iPad screens and packages the devices in bags said she was frequently exhausted after her hourly production target was increased by more than 10 percent. Despite increased wages, pressure to reduce overtime has also resulted in lower paychecks for workers, the report found.

Living conditions remain "cramped and unpleasant," according to the report, which found 20 to 30 people typically sharing 3-bedroom apartments stocked with bunk beds. Use of high-energy electrical appliances such as hair dryers, kettles, and laptops is prohibited. Employees who violate the rules risk having their appliances confiscated and not returned until they leave the company's employment.

Additionally, the report found that workers are warned during orientation not to discuss their work with journalists or researchers unless given permission by supervisors.

An audit of Foxconn earlier this year by the nonprofit Fair Labor Association, which Apple requested, revealed violations in wages and overtime. The FLA noted that more than 60 percent of workers at three of Foxconn's facilities felt they were not being paid enough to "meet their basic needs." The Chinese manufacturing giant pledged to remedy the violations.

Foxconn representatives said that they haven't seen the report but that the company remains committed to worker safety.

"Our success and commitment to our employees will be judged by future FLA audits and the monitoring of the implementation of the remediation program, by reviews carried out by our customers and by future employee surveys," a Foxconn representative told CNET in a statement. "Our employees are our greatest asset and we are fully committed to ensuring that they have a safe, satisfactory and healthy working environment."

Foxconn, which is the world's largest component maker, has come under increased scrutiny in the past few years after reports of employees committing suicide at company facilities. The company was also accused of employing underage laborers, providing poor living conditions at its dormitory housing, and overworking employees. The company came under closer watch following an explosion that rocked one of its factories last year.

After The New York Times published a report that profiled hazardous factory conditions linked to scores of injuries and a handful of deaths at a facility that makes Apple devices, Apple was accused of not doing enough to prevent unsafe conditions. Apple CEO Tim Cook, who recently visited a Foxconn factory in China where iPhones are manufactured, has defended his company's track record, saying: "We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain."

Updated at 8 a.m. PT on May 31 with Foxconn comment.