A watchdog group has slammed Apple and its supplier Foxconn for failing to take corrective action on the plight of factory workers in China, saying the companies continue to abuse employees while providing poor working conditions.
The workers at Foxconn, which makes Apple products like the iPad and iPhone, worked up to 80 hours a week in April leading up to the release of the new iPad, said Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), a Hong Kong-based organization, in a study. The production work for Foxconn workers on Apple products is excessive, and Foxconn has not yet taken corrective action to bring work hours within the Chinese legal limits, SACOM said.
Foxconn also continues to underpay workers while violating their rights and exposing them to health and safety risks, SACOM said. The group interviewed 170 workers across multiple Foxconn facilities in the cities of Zhengzhou, where the iPhone is made, and Shenzhen, where products for Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, Dell and other companies are made.
The abuse of factory workers making Apple products came under the microscope earlier this year following a New York Times story that described poor working conditions at the factories of contractors making the products. The Fair Labor Association conducted a month-long investigation on Foxconn factories and issued a report on March 29 revealing underpay, worker abuse and health and safety risks for workers. Based on recommendations in the study, Foxconn and Apple pledged to take steps to address the issues.
SACOM criticized the FLA for failing to address issues like harsh management and forced internships, but commended the organization for recommendations to improve working conditions in Foxconn's factories. However, Foxconn workers have been kept in the dark about the possible remedial actions as workers don't have access to FLA's report, SACOM said. Of the approximately 170 Foxconn employees surveyed, only 10 percent heard of the FLA, and the lack of knowledge will make it difficult for FLA to verify whether Apple and Foxconn are taking corrective action.
With the latest iPad, SACOM said that Foxconn has set higher production targets on products from Apple, which forces workers to put in overtime without pay to meet those targets. SACOM cited the example of a female worker whose job was to examine iPad casings and put them in plastic bags, but got exhausted after Foxconn increased the production target of iPads to 135 per hour from 120 per hour. Some Foxconn workers end up working 80 hours during peak season also on non-Apple products, SACOM said.
The FLA's investigation earlier found that some workers were forced to work extra hours and were often underpaid. Foxconn committed to fairly compensate and bring working hours within the Chinese legal limits of 49 hours a week, including overtime, by July 2013.
The lack of integration of workers into the company's management also continues and employees are unaware of their rights, SACOM said. Workers are under tight company control and have to sign up for a company-controlled union. FLA earlier cited Foxconn's working committees for lacking worker representation, and Foxconn said it would ensure worker representation without management interference.
Workers also do not receive adequate safety training, and the management imposes "humiliating disciplinary measures on workers," SACOM said. Some of those actions include cleaning toilets and forcing workers to write and read out in front of other employees long confession letters admitting guilt.
SACOM also criticized the working conditions, saying workers were unaware of the chemicals they are being exposed to in the production lines, which raises health concerns. Foxconn had already been under scrutiny following a string of suicide attempts at facilities in China in 2010 and after an explosion at the Chengdu factory last year killed three people. But SACOM said 728 cases of injuries were reported between May 2011 and April this year in Shenzhen, and people in middle management fail to report many injuries since injuries affect their bonuses.
The report exposes Apple's "broken promises" to stop worker abuse, said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffmann, the executive director of SumOfUs.org, a corporate accountability group, in a statement.
"The most worrying finding of all is that some workers' production targets are being increased beyond reasonable expectations, and then they are forced to work unpaid overtime if they don't meet those targets," Stinebrickner-Kauffmann said.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment. But the company has acknowledged violations to its supplier code of conduct related to issues such as wages, underage labor and working conditions in its 2012 annual supplier report. Apple has said the company is holding suppliers accountable and leading the way in improving working conditions.