Auditor says Foxconn is improving work conditions

Apple hired the Fair Labor Association six months ago to investigate work conditions at its biggest supplier. The FLA today reported big improvements.

Tess Vigeland: If you own an Apple product, you might be interested in knowing how Apple's supply chain is doing. Six months ago, the Fair Labor Association, a labor group hired by Apple found a number of problems with iPhone and iPad maker Foxconn. Those issues included too much overtime, unsafe working conditions, things like that.

Today, the Fair Labor Association released an update on whether Foxconn is complying with a series of recommendations it made. Our China Correspondent Rob Schmitz has the latest.


Rob Schmitz: Foxconn is at the top of the manufacturing pyramid. The company’s very good at getting things done -- pushed, of course, by profit. But how good has Foxconn been at implementing hundreds of action items to improve conditions for its workers?

Auret Van Heerden is president and CEO of the Fair Labor Association. He routinely visits Foxconn factories for an ongoing audit of the company’s work practices.

Auret Van Heerden: Frankly, the speed at which they’ve implemented this program is really precedent-setting.

He says the company has made changes to its factories: Improving worker health and safety, modifying equipment and giving more breaks. Back in February, Van Heerden discovered that only 1 percent of Foxconn’s workers were enrolled in the government’s unemployment insurance program. That’s because migrant workers can’t claim these benefits in their home province. Van Heerden says Foxconn persuaded the city government of Shenzhen -- where the company’s biggest factory is -- to change this policy.

Van Heerden: Millions of migrant workers in Shenzhen will now benefit from that new access. And I think it’ll be a template for other provinces to follow.

But not everyone’s convinced. China Labor Bulletin’s Geoffrey Crothall advocates for factory workers.

Geoffrey Crothall: It’s very encouraging that Foxconn’s on board and following through on what the FLA has asked it to do, but I always judge things on how they appear in practice.

The Fair Labor Association will soon have a front-row seat, when Foxconn ramps up production for Apple’s new iPhone. Van Heerden says a number of big companies have asked him how Foxconn will limit overtime during this ramp-up season. If Foxconn is able to do it, he says, other companies will likely follow.

In Shanghai, I’m Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.


Vigeland: Watch a video of what Rob saw when he went inside a Foxconn factory back in April.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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