Watchdog group once again blasts Foxconn, Apple over labor

Despite Foxconn's efforts to improve working conditions at its factories, a watchdog group says it has found numerous faults.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
A worker at one of Foxconn's facilities in China, released in January 2012 by Apple as part of its annual Supplier Responsibility report.
A worker at one of Foxconn's facilities in China, released by Apple as part of its annual Supplier Responsibility report. Apple

Workers putting together Apple's latest iPhone in one of Foxconn's plants in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China still face "deplorably harsh working conditions" according to a new report published today.

The 10-page report entitled "New iPhone, old abuses," by the Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), claims that workers at Foxconn's Zhengzhou facility are still being forced to work overtime and experiencing numerous working violations.

The report, like othersthe group has put out in the past, is based on offsite interviews with workers at Foxconn factories. This time it's 60 workers from Zhengzhou during the first week of September 2012.

Listed among the chief findings is excessive overtime that adds "between 80-100 hours" a month of overtime (some of which is not paid, the report says); subcontracted workers that may not have insurance; difficulty striking or organizing a union; frequent contact with strong chemicals; and relocation to other Foxconn facilities without knowledge of when they can return to their original location.

"SACOM is disturbed that the old problems of labour rights abuses remain norms at Foxconn. And the problems are further intensified during the peak season," the group wrote in its report. "Even though Foxconn is the primary one responsible for the labour abuses, the problems are rooted in the buying practices and the slack monitoring system by Apple."

A Foxconn Technology Group spokesperson said the findings were not representative of the company's own audits:

While interviews with 60 of our employees may have been carried out by SACOM outside our Zhengzhou campus, we do not believe the allegations included in the report are representative of the experience of the approximately 192,000 employees working in that campus and they are not supported by our own internal audits. Our goal is to attract and keep the best workers and the practices described in the report run counter to achieving that goal. In any case, we take all allegations very seriously and we will thoroughly investigate those included in the report and will take the appropriate actions should that be required.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on the report and its findings.

As mentioned in previous coverage, Apple is not the only company that uses Foxconn for the manufacturing of its products. Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Microsoft and other major tech companies use it too. SACOM, however, points out that this particular two-year old facility in Zhengzhou is set up exclusively to produce Apple's iPhone, and that its interviews took place during this busy season.

Apple and its supply chain have been under intense scrutiny for years, though interest arguably peaked in January. Shortly after publishing its latest annual report on supplier responsibility, which the company said was based on more than 200 audits, Apple was the subject of a pair of investigative reports by The New York Times. Those reports lambasted Apple for poor labor and safety issues in its supplier facilities, as well as for using cutthroat business practices that prohibited those manufacturers from making improvements. In its own report, Apple said it found issues with working hours and compliance with environmental standards.

Alongside its supplier responsibility report, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit labor rights organization that was originally formed to create labor policy and an auditing system for companies that made clothing and footwear. Apple became the first and -- and so far only -- technology company involved, joining names like Adidas, Nike, Patagonia, and Hanes.

Several reports published by the FLA since it joined say that Foxconn has made numerous improvements and changes since the group began its audits, with more scheduled for mid-2013. Nonetheless, SACOM's new report says those findings can't be trusted.

"Apple and the world cannot rely upon the Fair Labor Association to be the only solution for the problems at Foxconn," the report says. "Given the limits to the FLA monitoring system, SACOM calls on consumers to exert pressure on Foxconn and Apple to establish truly ethical labour practices."

Updated at 6:44 p.m. PT with comment from Foxconn.