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Foxconn hid underage workers before FLA tour, group says

updated 11:00 am EST, Wed February 22, 2012

Workers reassigned, given unusual privileges

Underage Foxconn workers were transferred to other departments or not scheduled to work overtime in advance of inspections by the Fair Labor Association, an activist group tells AppleInsider. Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior project officer Debby Sze Wan Chan says that last week, she heard from two Foxconn workers in Zhenghou who said the company prepared itself before the FLA arrived. "All underage workers, between 16-17 years old, were not assigned any overtime work and some of them were even sent to other departments," Chan claims.

A worker in Chengdu reportedly said she was recently allowed three breaks a day because of the audit, whereas normally she would only get one. Apple's code of conduct technically allows workers as young as 16 or 17, but only with limits to how much they can work, and what jobs they're assigned. During its own 2011 audits the company is said to have caught six active and 13 historical incidents of underage workers in five different supplier factories.

Before FLA inspections began, organization president Auret van Heerden initially claimed that Foxconn facilities were "first-class," later amending his statement to say that "tons of issues" existed. SACOM's Chan says that many Foxconn workers think Apple doesn't care about them, since representatives have allegedly seeing labor violations during tours but failed to respond. Told about an internal Apple memo in which CEO Tim Cook claimed the company cares about "every worker in [the] supply chain," the Foxconn workers reportedly answered that they didn't feel it.

"Most of the time, the workers are aware of the presence of Apple's representatives inside the factories. It is not the problem that Apple doesn't know the real problems at their suppliers. They know, but it is only because they do not care," Chan remarks. She hopes that Cook will manage to improve supplier labor standards, but says she is skeptical of whether he has "any commitments to do so."

SACOM has organized a petition calling for Apple to "end the use of student workers; provide a living wage for all the workers so they do not have to work excessive overtime hours; conduct labour rights training for workers, including training on occupational health and safety; facilitate the formation of a genuine trade union through democratic election; and compensate the victims if there is non-compliance with the Apple code of conduct." Chan notes that she has tried to contact the company for two years without a response, even going so far as to visit its Cupertino headquarters to deliver reports, petition cards, and documentaries. A receptionist is said to have refused to take SACOM material. "Finally, a security guard tried to disperse us and he promised that he would hand the materials to someone in charge, but I haven't heard from them since then," Chan adds. On Tuesday SACOM protesters tried to deliver a SumOfUs petition to the Hong Kong Apple Store, but unlike a similar effort in the US, no one at the store would take it.

Chan says that the CNN and New York Times stories that sparked closer attention to Apple suppliers are "quite similar" to her own organization's findings. "The workers always tell us they resemble machines," she comments in light of trips to Foxconn's Chengdu plant. "Their regular day at Foxconn is waking up, queuing up for baths and work, work and go back to the dormitory and sleep. They do not have a social life and they are doing the same monotonous task in the factory for thousands of times a day. If they are not efficient enough or they make some mistakes, they will be yelled at by their supervisor or punished."

Chan accuses mainstream media outlets of omitting a key issue, that being involuntary labor. Local Chinese governmental departments are said to provide recruitment help for Foxconn, even requiring schools to send students over for internships regardless of a connection with the students' disciplines.

A recent pay hike still isn't enough for a livable wage, Chan goes on. "In Zhengzhou, the basic salary of new workers is CNY 1350 ($214). And there is a deduction of CNY 150 ($24) for the dorm. If a worker eats inside the factory, there is another CNY 200-300 ($32-48) to pay. It is far from the living wage standard. Without overtime premiums, a worker can hardly support his/herself."

She concedes that many factory jobs may be better than the opportunities in workers' hometowns, but argues that this doesn't give companies an excuse to violate workers' rights. She observes that HP, Dell, Nokia, Samsung and Sony also use Foxconn services, and that for the most part conditions across production lines are "quite similar." Workers say that Nokia, though, is good enough to guarantee Foxconn employees at least one day off per week, whereas other lines may only provide one day off every two weeks.

"I think the pressure from consumers is definitely the most important incentive for Apple to reform because Apple, like any other corporation, aims to maximize the profits and minimize the responsibility," Chan states. "If there is no pressure from consumers then Apple does not need to care about criticism from the public. Apple has its code of conduct, but that is merely a piece of paper without a mechanism to enforce those standards. When we demand that Apple should fix the problem, it's not just because Apple is under the spotlight, but it's also because we hope to hold Apple accountable because the company has publicly pledged lots of things, like that they will ensure decent working conditions at its suppliers."

by MacNN Staff



  1. Flying Meat

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I don't think it is a shock

    that Foxconn might have shifted folks around to accommodate the inspection, but I think it is largely misplaced responsibility. Apple contracts with Foxconn, who employs the workers. While Apple, like many large corporations should take some responsibility for conditions with its suppliers, it is mostly the supplier that is to be held accountable for conditions.
    The only way Apple will be able to take care of the situation at Foxconn is to remove itself from the equation. Even then, there are other companies contracting with Foxconn, so it might not change much...
    I believe Apple, being the most valuable company on earth, can handle the strain of moving to other suppliers though, and might just want to throw that at Foxconn to see if things don't improve.

    I couldn't help noticing some oddities in the reporting though. If people do not stay at Foxconn dorms, an option I see in between the lines, and if Foxconn workers do not eat at the factory, another option(?) then the workers save up to $72. What is the cost associated with, and likelihood of living and dining off campus?

  1. Geoduck

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Mr Pot, Meet Mr Kettle

    "Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior"
    Sounds like a university based organization

    "has organized a petition calling for Apple to "end the use of student workers"
    Universities are some of the biggest employers of student workers. Both paid and unpaid. Overtime is the norm. Minimum (not living ) wage is the norm.

  1. nat

    Joined: Dec 1969



    went through this same thing in the 90's. child labor, bad conditions. nike got a black eye. the industry? 20 years later and nike is still fighting management and labor issues. the industry hasn't changed. and if you didn't work in a nike factory you saw no change at all.
    anyone who thinks one company can change this is delusional. to impact all these industries (clothes, tech, hail, you don't want to know how your frying pan is made) everybody would need to stop buying any and all of it. toys for christmas? forget about it. it's far reaching and nobody is going to have an impact. china is going to move a lot of it to africa so they can get - you guessed it - cheaper labor.

  1. BigMac2

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Since when Foxconn is exclusive to Apple

    " Foxconn workers think Apple doesn't care about them"

    What about Cisco, Intel, Acer, Dell, HP, Gateway, Motorola, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nokia, Amazon, they all are foxconn customers like Apple.

  1. Arne_Saknussemm

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple standards...

    "Apple's code of conduct technically allows workers as young as 16 or 17"
    Leave a lot to be desired.

    Sure there are many other offenders, why pick on Apple?

    1. Apple is the biggest Foxconn client.
    2. Apple has the unquestionably largest profit margins.
    3. Apple spends millions advertising how "green" it is, maybe some of that money should go to actually improve the quality of those making iStuff.
    4. Apple closed down it's high tech manufacturing in the USA in exchange of even a wider profit margin.

  1. slboett

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Who's pushing...

    These ridiculous articles making Apple the bad guys?
    It smells badly of Samsung, MS, Google and others because so many companies use these facilities. Since when do we dictate what goes on in Chinese factories? Doesn't anyone else think this is getting out of control? I do. "Apple doesn't care about us" Really? Welcome to the world of working for a huge corporation - they don't care about you and neither does my company care about me. We're cogs doing a job. Want love? Get a mate.

  1. dimmer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    16 and 17 year old

    Wait, so 16 and 17 year old workers are "underage"? Wow. Better tell that to Europe. Taking away the right of a 16 year old to work and earn money is reprehensible (not everyone wants to go to college y'know). In fact, in my home of Scotland 13 to 14 year olds can leave education to join their family farming businesses. Works just fine (lets face it, most farm boys are never going to excel at anything but milkin' coos, shaggin' sheep, muckin' byres, and faking their governmental grant forms).

  1. driven

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Never mind the facts

    You don't find underage workers, report that they are hidden. After all they MUST be there.

    If you don't find weapons of mass destruction, invade anyway, they MUST be there.

    Bad article. Bad reporting. Let me know when an actual fact shows up.

  1. facebook_John

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Feb 2012


    Anre, Dell and others did the same

    Arne, Dell and many other companies do the same thing to make there crappy PC's. Apple isn't the only company that moved to china to make there products. It was because most of the other companies moved there manufacturing so Apple had to do the same to compete, or did you forget that little fact. Apple is the only company to open up and show what's going on and to listen. I don't see Dell or any of the others even mentioning anything about conditions in Foxconn. Apple is one of the greenest manufacturers on the planet and at least is trying to change some of the conditions at Foxconn and other places. It doesn't matter who's the biggest, it matters how the people are being treated and if there are healthy conditions there. If there are under aged people working there an Apple finds them, they will not be working there anymore. Foxconn as a contractor for Apple has a responsibility for there workers too.
    They are the ones that actually employ those workers to do the job that Apple has contracted Foxconn to do. Foxconn is a very big company in itself and needs to step up, and I think that's why Apple is pushing the inspections and let ABC news go inside and investigate for themselves. If Foxconn wants to continue making products they better get there act together and make sure working conditions and living conditions are met so workers don't get hurt or commit suicide for any reason. I think Apple is serious about this, Tim Cook is serious about this and they want results to stop what has previously been happening.

  1. Arne_Saknussemm

    Joined: Dec 1969


    @facebook_John, slboett etc...

    Companies are not good nor bad, they are just about making money.

    Apple makes LOTS of money, about NINE times what it's rivals make on similar products.

    Thus Apple is the easiest target.

    Apple fans make the mistake of believing it is completely different,
    and in many ways it is, as most leaders might be;
    yet it is a big (the biggest now) company,
    and believe or not it's main objective is not curing cancer,
    or solving USA's dependency on fossil fuels,

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