[Press Release] New iPhone, Old Abuses: Have working conditions at Foxconn in China improved?

Whenever there are new products launched by Apple, consumers are thrilled. All over the world they queue up outside Apple stores in order to have their beloved products immediately. At the same time, workers are queuing up for the company bus and lining up to swipe their staff card at Foxconn, but without similar excitement. When the peak season comes, they are tied to the production lines with just 1 day off in 13 working days, or no rest day at all in a month, all to cope with the public demand for the new Apple products. It is sad to say that to some extent, workers also yearn for the peak season because their base pay is insufficient to meet their basic needs, especially for those who have to support their dependents.

Now, in September 2012, our researchers revisited Foxconn’s plants in Zhengzhou, HenanProvince, China, whose sole product is the iPhone. Most of the 60 interviewees who SACOM talked to are new workers recruited by the government. The high turnover rate and the government’s need to recruit workers and take other special steps to smooth production implicitly suggest that job satisfaction is not high. More than that, SACOM’s new investigation finds that Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou are still facing deplorably harsh working conditions. It is disappointing that no matter how advanced the technology introduced by Apple is, the old problems in working conditions remain at its major supplier Foxconn.

The following are the key findings at Foxconn in Zhengzhou:

  • Excessive overtime: Since August, monthly overtime hours have been between 80-100 hours in some of the production lines at Foxconn. These high levels often exceed the levels reported by theFLA in its recent progress report, and are two to three times that allowed by Chinese law.
  • Unpaid overtime: Workers have to attend the daily work assembly without payment. On some production lines, workers must accomplish the production target before they can stop working even if that means working overtime without pay.
  • Comprehensive working hour: By Chinese law, workers should receive double overtime premiums for work on the weekends, but workers are given compensation leave instead of extra payment.
  • Denial of ergonomic break: Foxconn and Apple have promised to offer two daily ergonomic breaks for workers, but SACOM found that most of the interviewees have not enjoyed the break at all.
  • Meager wages: Foxconn has modestly increased the basic salary in Zhengzhou, but it is still insufficient for workers to meet their basic needs, especially when they have to support the living cost of their dependents.
  • Student intern: The provincial government is using different channels to supply workers to Foxconn. Student internships are one of the means. As such, vocational schools are sending students to Foxconn to cope with the peak season.
  • Dispatch labour: Foxconn is hiring dispatched labour in Zhengzhou. The sub-contractual workers do not know if they have social insurance.
  • Arbitrary relocation of workforce: In the rush to complete iPhone 5 orders, Foxconn is relocating workers from other provinces to Zhengzhou to meet production goals. Workers may not have a choice in these transfers, do not always know how long they are going to stay in Zhengzhou, and sometimes have to stay long past the promised time.
  • Occupational health and safety: Inadequate training and protection for workers. Workers feel the chemicals that they contact regularly, such as “cutting fluid,” glue and thinner, have strong odours. Workers worry about their health, but there is a lack of effective protection for them.
  • Inhumane management practices: Workers need to acquire an “off-duty permit” for a toilet break; this is inhumane and unreasonable. A worker who did not sit properly in a standard position was asked to write a confession statement, repeating a longstanding unacceptable practice by Foxconn.
  • Crackdown on strikes: Workers reported a number of strikes in Zhengzhou because of low wages or unfair treatment. In one very recent example, the workers concerned were dismissed by Foxconn.
  • Company-controlled union: Supervisors passed around a book for workers to sign up for trade union membership at Foxconn without explaining how the union is relevant to them.

[The full report can be downloaded here.]