Foxconn pledges to reduce hours, increase wages

Apple's Chinese supplier

Charles Duhigg and Steven Greenhouse / New York Times News Service /

Published Mar 30, 2012 at 05:00AM

Responding to a critical investigation of its factories, the manufacturing giant Foxconn has pledged to sharply curtail working hours and significantly increase wages inside Chinese plants making electronic products for Apple and other companies. The move could improve working conditions across China.

The shift comes after a far-ranging inspection by the Fair Labor Association, a monitoring group, found widespread problems — including numerous instances where Foxconn violated Chinese law and industry codes of conduct by having employees work more than 60 hours a week and sometimes for 11 or more days in a row.

The monitoring group, which in recent weeks surveyed more than 35,000 Foxconn employees and inspected three large facilities where Apple products are manufactured, also found that 43 percent of workers surveyed had experienced or witnessed accidents, and almost two-thirds said their compensation “does not meet their basic needs.” Many said that the unions available to them did “not provide true worker representation.”

“There’s this lingering sense among workers that they’re in a dangerous place,” Auret van Heerden, president and chief executive of the Fair Labor Association, said in an interview.

But Foxconn has “reached a tipping point. They have publicly promised to make changes in a manner that they will have to deliver on it.”

Apple, which recently joined the Fair Labor Association, had asked the group to investigate plants manufacturing iPhones, iPads and other devices. In recent months, a growing outcry over conditions at overseas factories has prompted protests and petitions, and several labor rights organizations have started scrutinizing Apple’s suppliers. Earlier this week a collection of advocacy groups sent Apple an open letter calling on the company to “ensure decent working conditions at all its suppliers.”

Since January, Apple has released a list of 156 of its suppliers — which it had previously declined to identify — and has begun posting regular monitoring reports on hours worked by factory employees. Apple, which has regularly audited its suppliers since 2006, said in a statement Thursday, “We share the F.L.A.’s goal of improving lives and raising the bar for manufacturing companies everywhere.”

Foxconn did not reveal how much it would raise wages or details on how its promises would be put into place. But the impact of Foxconn’s hour and wage reforms could signal a wide-reaching change in working conditions throughout China. Foxconn makes more than 40 percent of the world’s electronics products — including for such brands as Amazon, Dell and Hewlett-Packard — and is China’s largest and most prominent private employer, with 1.2 million workers. In response to the report, Foxconn said, “We are committed to work with Apple to carry out the remediation program, developed by both our companies.”

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