Report Details Continuing Foxconn Abuse

Foxconn, the company that builds both the iPhone and the iPad, came under fire last year after a string of suicides led to an investigation of the company's conditions. Both Apple and Foxconn promised to make certain that reforms were enacted to improve working conditions. A new report, released today, is the first detailed investigation on how things have changed at the company. Improvements, thus far, have been sporadic at the least.

Foxconn's Chengdu facility. Additional production space under construction.

The SACOM report indicates that while things at Foxconn have improved to a degree, wages are widely miscalculated with the difference either unpaid or not paid for months. Overtime Work hours, which were supposed to decrease from 80 to 36 hours of overtime a month and be strictly voluntary, have continued at the 80-100hr level. One worker, Chen Linfeng, explained how the new 'voluntary' system works. If he asks to leave the shift floor after a ten-hour shift, he'll only be allowed to work the standard shift for at least a month. "If there is no overtime at all, I will only receive the basic salary. hence, I have no choice." Workers who ask to leave the floor at the end of their shifts are also accused of causing work stoppages.

Shift lengths are also abusive. A significant number of workers often have to work back-to-back ten-hour shifts with just two 30 minute breaks total. Because some of the manufacturing equipment runs 24 hours a day, there are groups of employees who aren't allowed to leave the shift floor—even when on break. An anonymous worker told the group: "If some colleagues go out for dinner, then the workers who stay in the workshop have to take care of three machines at the same time. It is hard work, but we do not have additional subsidy for that. Workers can only have dinner after the shift ends. Continuous shift occurs every day." Other evidence indicates continuous shift workers are forced to go up to seven hours without meal breaks.

Ultimately, there are misrepresentations and oversights built into nearly every part of Foxconn, from the hiring process to the factory floor. Advertised wages are significantly higher than what actual employees earn, employees are required to put in an extra hour of unpaid time a day (separate from overtime), and workdays are grueling. At Chengdu, workers are up by 6:45 AM and don't arrive home until 9 PM. In at least some cases, the company maintains a 6-7 day work week. The difference between regular work days and weekend work days is that on the weekends, employees are 'only' required to work ten hours a day.

They only look exhausted because they're so happy.

Even basic safety equipment (think kitchen gloves or the simplest filter masks) is sporadically provided or, in some cases, difficult to obtain. Workers in the polishing department, for example, have gloves—but no filtration masks to prevent them from breathing the aluminum dust created by their own work. In other cases, workers aren't issued gloves because it increases the chance they'll drop a product in production.

SACOM notes that wage levels and certain other metrics have improved in the past year, but concludes: "It is hypocritical that Foxconn hires a number of counselors, opens up care centres, and launches hotline services for workers after the spate of suicides, but imposes harsh management on workers at the same time. Workers are not allowed to talk on the production line and... feel they resemble machines."

if the SACOM report is accurate, Foxconn is still operating the 21st century equivalent of a 19th century sweatshop. The fact that other nations went through similar periods doesn't excuse Foxconn's behavior now any more than it excused US Steel's behavior in 1892. Hopefully Apple will conduct its own follow-up and take appropriate action.