FLA announces Foxconn results, Apple promises action

March 30, 2012

Tick tock. Apple invited the Fair Labor Association to inspect and report on work conditions at Foxconn’s Chinese factories, and now we have the report. There is lot of red meat in it for everyone on all sides of the issue to point to and get lathered up about — a foul, sticky substance that the media and blogsphere is excreting with vigorous abandon.

For the last few days, we’ve been getting a steady diet of Tim Cook here, there and everywhere — his Apple CEO honeymoon tour. And, now, for something completely related.

At Apple’s behest, the Fair Labor Association inspected and now has issued a report covering labor abuses at contract manufacturer Foxconn’s Chinese facilities — a serious endeavor by any measure:

      • FLA assessors logged more than 3,000 staff hours inside the factories;

      • Evaluated conditions based on visual observation and review of policies, procedures and documentation (payroll and time records, production schedules, employee records);

      • Interviewed hundreds of Foxconn workers and managers both on- and off-site;

      • Conducted an anonymous worker perception survey of 35,500 randomly-selected Foxconn workers – providing an in-depth understanding of working conditions, particularly during peak production of Apple products

And, they reached the conclusions almost everyone expected and Foxconn/Apple is saying they will follow through by the middle of next year:

Foxconn has committed to bring its factories into full compliance with Chinese legal limits and FLA standards on working hours by July 2013, according to its remediation plan in FLA’s report. The supplier will bring working hours in line with the legal limit of 49 hours per week, including overtime. This means a reduction in monthly overtime hours from 80 to 36, and would be a significant improvement given that most of the technology sector is struggling to address excessive overtime.

See also: Mike Daisey’s disgrace tops his lies

More importantly, while employees will work fewer hours, Foxconn has agreed to develop a compensation package that protects workers from losing income due to reduced overtime. In order to maintain capacity while reducing workers’ hours, Foxconn committed to increase its workforce significantly as it builds additional housing and canteen capacity.

Chuck in fillips about safety and better communication and you get the picture, or numb your brain with the full report via the link above.

That said, first and foremost, given the Chinese government’s hands off approach to the issue of labor rights in their own country, I fundamentally doubt that the real issues uncovered by the FLA will be addressed by Apple/Foxconn’s competitors or even that work performed within Foxconn for other companies will be raised to the standards set out.

Where it’s possible to cheat, lie and manipulate in the name of profit, people will cheat, lie and manipulate to do so — the Chinese government’s trickle-down, market-based approach is doomed to fail, period.

Confirmation of this cynical view will be readily available in the scores and perhaps hundreds of Chinese coal miners that will continue every month.

And, the flip side

And, for a few days the world will celebrate its near unanimous condemnation of and shared moral outrage at Apple/Foxconn. Which is all very well and nice, but if the Fair Labor Association ran the world startups would be illegal and it would take 10 years to complete a college degree.

Moreover, it would be illegal to build up a small business through sweat equity or improve your family’s lot by taking multiple jobs — the Apollo Moon Program wouldn’t have happened. We should be careful what we wish for.

In fact, Foxconn’s Chinese workers are already regretting this resolution to our collective guilt and want their overtime back. Seriously.

On that note, back to my essentially non-stop, less than minimum wage work + family life here in post-Bush America…

What’s your take?

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