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August 27, 2012
Labor Conditions Improving at Chinese Supplier to Apple
    by Robert Kropp

The Fair Labor Association reports that Foxconn Technology Group, Apple's largest supplier, is ahead of schedule in meeting commitments such as higher wages and less mandatory overtime.

For years, sustainable investors have been pressuring Apple and other corporations to address labor conditions in their supply chains. But it wasn't until the suicides in 2010 of 17 workers at one of the plants owned by Foxconn Technology Group, China's largest private employer and Apple's largest supplier as well, that the issue became a widespread mainstream concern.

It took Apple over a year to respond to stakeholders such as the Inter faith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and Calvert Investments; but in January it became the first electronics company to join the Fair Labor Association (FLA), and agreed to allow the organization to audit workplace conditions at Foxconn.

The audit, conducted earlier this year, uncovered numerous violations of FLA's Workplace Code of Conduct, identifying well over 300 actions that Foxconn must take to be in compliance with the code. Both Apple and Foxconn accepted FLA's recommendations, and implemented a 15-month action plan.

FLA itself has come in for its own share of criticism, as some observers have argued that because of its relationships with corporations, cases of workers' rights violations have been "covered up." Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President for Sustainability Research and Policy at Calvert, told in March, "The FLA's credibility is on the line, and it is essential that it continues to play its part and insist upon these commitments being delivered."

In late June, FLA returned to Foxconn, and found that the company had completed all of the 195 actions that were due by then. FLA noted that Foxconn had reduced working hours to fewer than 60 per week, and was on target to be in full compliance with the Chinese legal limit by July, 2013.

FLA also verified that Foxconn had made improvements in worker health and safety, and helped extend unemployment insurance coverage for migrant workers working in Shenzhen.

In addition to completing all the required actions in time, Foxconn had completed 89 action items ahead of schedule, FLA found. Another 76 action items are due to be completed over the course of the next year.

"The next phase of improvements will be challenging for Foxconn because they involve major changes in the working environment that will inevitably cause uncertainty and anxiety among workers," Auret van Heerden, President and CEO of FLA, said. "As Foxconn prepares to comply with the Chinese legal limits on work hours, consultation with workers on the changes and implications will be critical to a successful transition."

Nevertheless, van Heerden continued, "We are satisfied that Apple has done its due diligence thus far to hold Foxconn accountable for complying with the action plan."


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