Apple Supplier Foxconn Pledges Better Working Conditions, but Will it Deliver?

Apple Supplier Foxconn Pledges Better Working Conditions, but Will it Deliver?


bjbjLULU JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to a pledge
to improve working conditions at one of Apple’s major suppliers in China. As Apple surged
toward its status as the world’s most valuable company, the calls for it to account for how
its wildly popular iPads and iPhones are made have grown. Last month, the California-based
firm announced it had asked the Fair Labor Association, a monitoring group, to investigate
Foxconn, Apple’s main contract manufacturer in China. Foxconn works for dozens of other
firms as well. Altogether, it produces some 40 percent of the world’s electronics, with
a work force of 1.2 million. In a report about Foxconn released yesterday, the FLA cited
excessive overtime, exceeding 60 hours a week, and problems with overtime compensation, several
health and safety risks and crucial communication gaps that have led to a widespread sense of
unsafe working conditions among workers. The findings shed light on allegations of unfair
labor practices that had triggered protests at Apple stores. MARK SHIELDS, activist: Apple
has changed the way we listen to music, how we see movies, how we use our iPhones, how
we use our computers. They have the creativity and the capital to make this better. They
can make their products without horrible human suffering. JEFFREY BROWN: The FLA also laid
out recommendations that included a maximum 60-hour workweek and changes to Foxconn’s
overtime compensation policy. In a statement, an Apple spokesman said — quote — “We appreciate
the work the FLA has done to assess conditions at Foxconn, and we fully support their recommendations.”
For its part, Foxconn vowed to cap workweeks at 49 hours, hire thousands of new employees,
and improve safety. Earlier today, I talked to Auret Van Heerden, the head of the Fair
Labor Association, who oversaw the investigation and report on Foxconn’s labor practices. Mr.
Van Heerden, welcome. Now, you cited the fact that some 43 percent of the workers had experienced
or witnessed an accident. So these are very dangerous places to work, right? AURET VAN
HEERDEN, CEO, Fair Labor Association: Yes and no. The 43 percent shouldn’t be taken
as an accident statistic. It’s a perception. And, in fact, when we drove down, we found
that Foxconn had put in place all of the formal procedures that you need to manage the accident
risks in those facilities. What they’re missing is the communications piece. They’re not getting
that message across to workers, and they’re not winning the confidence and the trust of
workers as far as the safety of the health — and the health of the workplace is concerned.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you also cited long working hours and insufficient wages to make a living.
Can you give us some specific examples of things you heard? AURET VAN HEERDEN: So, workers
in peak periods are working upwards of 60 hours a week. Something between 60 and 70
is the norm at the peak. But some are working beyond that. And, even more importantly, sometimes
they’re working as much as 10 or 11 days straight without a day off. So, that’s clearly a period
where they re suffering from fatigue and the risk of accidents increases. JEFFREY BROWN:
When you add this up, were you surprised, and how would you assess the seriousness of
the violations you found? AURET VAN HEERDEN: We weren’t surprised. I must say that these
are pretty much the range that we normally find in Chinese factories. And given Foxconn’s
size and their resources, they actually are making much faster progress than most of the
factories that we work with. JEFFREY BROWN: And what of Apple? Do you see Apple as an
honest broker here and sincere in its desire to bring change? AURET VAN HEERDEN: They are.
They’re very engaged. ve been to Apple with top management. We have had very, very detailed
discussions about our findings and about the remedial items. And Apple have been at the
table at all of those discussions and pushing hard for these improvements. JEFFREY BROWN:
Another issue in the report was worker representation. Now, you found that unions and other worker
groups were typically dominated by people chosen by the company, and not the workers
themselves. How important a finding was that? AURET VAN HEERDEN: We think it’s a very big
part of this story, because it’s typical for Chinese trade unions and Chinese factories
to have committees that are selected by management. And even if there is an election process,
the nominees are really handpicked by management. And so you end up with a committee that should
be reflecting workers’ concerns and workers’ needs, but it’s made up of people who come
from the ranks of management. So it’s just not achieving its objectives. And what we
found in many different dimensions is that workers aren’t aware of issues. They’re not
— if they are aware of it, they don’t believe it. And so there’s a credibility gap between
a lot of the good work which is taking place, a lot of the good policies and procedures,
and workers’ perception of those same policies and procedures. JEFFREY BROWN: So when you
look at the agreements made by Foxconn, do you think it has the potential to set a new
standard, both for the Western tech industry and for their factories in China? AURET VAN
HEERDEN: I do. I think the potential impact is huge. And, for me, that’s really the most
exciting part of this story, to see how Apple and Foxconn and the FLA can come together
and come to agreements which will directly improve the lives of 1.2 million workers,
and indirectly set the bar for the rest of the sector, because if you think about it,
as soon as Apple and Foxconn improve the wages and working conditions of these workers, workers
will flock to Foxconn from other factories in the area. And so their competitors will
be obliged to improve their terms and conditions in order to attract and retain workers. And
so we kick off a race to the top, instead of the race to the bottom that so often dominates.
JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, Foxconn has apparently agreed to changes in the past, and we know
there have been audits by Apple in the past. Is there any assurance that, this time, there
will be real change through follow-up monitoring and verification? AURET VAN HEERDEN: Yes.
I think we have two assurances here. The first is that the FLA will continue to monitor the
implementation of these commitments. We have detailed action items, hundreds of them. We
have the names of the people responsible. We have the deliverable and the deadline.
And we will be sending our assessors back periodically to update and verify the status
of those action items. But, secondly, they ve made this commitment publicly. And the
media and the consumers and the external stakeholders are all going to be watching very closely
to see whether they live up to them. And I really don’t do not believe that Apple and
Foxconn would have made this kind of commitment if they weren’t planning on delivering. JEFFREY
BROWN: So your sense is that public interest and public pressure really has had an impact,
these companies have felt it? AURET VAN HEERDEN: Absolutely. I think the consumer interest
is critical to this. JEFFREY BROWN: Auret Van Heerden is the head of the Fair Labor
Association. Thanks for joining us. AURET VAN HEERDEN: Thank you very much. urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
State urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags country-region urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
place JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to a pledge to improve working conditions at one of Apple’s
major suppliers in China Normal Microsoft Office Word JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to
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