updated 05:56 pm EDT, Tue August 21, 2012
Over 280 improvements made on or ahead of schedule
Apple's industry-leading membership in the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which promised audits of Chinese companies that acted as suppliers to a number of electronics manufacturers including the iPad maker, has resulted in a progress report that finds evidence of genuine progress. The report found substantial improvements, including some ahead of schedule.
Following its initial audit, the FLA recommended a total of 360 actions be taken, largely concerned with health and safety issue along with items like limiting overtime and more rigorous checking to ensure that workers aren't underage. The follow-up, conducted in June and July, found that Apple and Foxconn had corrected 284 of the issues raised in the initial audit, including 89 that had been resolved ahead of schedule. A further 76 issues must be fixed over the course of the next year.
"Our verification shows that the necessary changes, including immediate health and safety measures, have been made" said FLA President and CEO Auret van Heerden in a statement. "We are satisfied that Apple has done its due diligence thus far to hold Foxconn accountable for complying with the action plan, including the commitment to reform its internship program." Under the FLA's plan, student interns at Foxconn will no longer be allowed to work overtime, will receive work assignments that relate to their field of study, and will be monitored to ensure that they understand they can terminate the internship if they wish.
Foxconn is still struggling to bring its factories into compliance with Chinese law regarding working hours. The company has managed to bring down its average to 60 hours a week (including overtime), but must reach the legal standard in China, which is 40 regular hours and up to nine overtime hours per week.
Foxconn has made numerous health and safety improvements, including training for all employees and updating its maintenance policies. The company also sponsored legislation in China that makes it easier for the unemployed to access their benefits, a move that has implications for all other suppliers.
Some workers interviewed by an activist group have said that while some changes have been made and appreciated, workers at Foxconn facilities are still under high pressure to maximize production and efficiency. Some changes in these areas -- such as changing the design of some workers' equipment to avoid repetitive stress injuries -- have already been made, but the biggest challenge for the company will be reducing overtime without angering workers, some of whom rely heavily on overtime work to make more money.
The FLA's Van Heerden said that if Foxconn can succeed on all fronts in correcting issues raised during the early 2012 audit, the accomplishment would "create the roadmap for all Chinese suppliers in the tech industry." The group says it will maintain detailed status updates for all three of the Foxconn facilities on its website.