Some good news and some bad news

Apple this week published a formal report on manufacturing conditions at one of Foxconn's facilities in China where some of Apple's iPods are produced. The report is in response to a flurry of media coverage about poor working conditions at Foxconn's facilities. The online press had suggested that Foxconn's facilities forced employees to work excessive hours and receive salaries that were below the local region's minimum wage. In some news reports, Foxconn was reported to have been mistreating employees such as providing poor working or living conditions.

The nature of the reports immediately provoked a response from Apple, indicating that it would investigate the situation and take action if Foxconn was found to be in violation of Apple's own Supplier Code of Conduct. Apple maintains that all of its suppliers must meet certain criteria and standards.

Apple's formal investigation of Foxconn reveals that while most employees were generally satisfied of their working conditions, Foxconn did violate several areas of Apple's Supplier Code of Conduct including:

  • Working and living conditions
  • Excessive working hours
  • Proper employee treatment

In terms of working conditions, Apple found that Foxconn actually provides a very good environment for its employees. The facility in question has several in-house restaurants, recreational facilities such as tennis courts and pools, lounging rooms and other amenities. Working areas were also found to be generally clean, safe and well lit. Apple's interviews with a large number of employees found that most were pleased with Foxconn's facilities.

Foxconn also provides employees with on-campus housing, supplied by Foxconn itself or through third party leasing. Apple found that while Foxconn's own living facilities were satisfactory, the leased complexes were not. In the leased housing areas, employees appeared to be crammed together. Large rooms holding a bulk number of beds were common and in some areas, beds were stacked. Apple says that it finds these conditions to be too "impersonal" and that Foxconn is already in the process of building new housing facilities.

A large number of employees also appeared to be working an excessive number of hours, working a total of 35% over Apple's recommended hours per week maximum which is 60 hours. Some employees were also found to have been treated poorly, with some being "punished" by being forced to "stand at attention." From Apple's report:

During our interviews with employees, we explicitly asked every line worker whether they had ever been subjected to or witnessed objectionable disciplinary punishment. Two employees reported that they had been disciplined by being made to stand at attention. While we did not find this practice to be widespread, Apple has a zero tolerance policy for any instance, isolated or not, of any treatment of workers that could be interpreted as harsh.

Apple says that it will continue to work with Foxconn to rectify several areas of its facilities and improve employee working conditions. The company has also joined the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct (EICC) Implementation Group, which is an industry-wide group that maintains working standards. Apple says that so far it is pleased with the results of its investigation and will continue to monitor the situation at Foxconn heavily.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007
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