by Debby Chan
Hong Kong, 24 August 2012
On 21 August, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) released a verification report on labour practices at three Foxconn factories producing for Apple in China that were the subject of an earlier FLA investigation. In its report, the FLA trumpets the speedy progress at Foxconn in remediating widespread labour rights violations. However the FLA has overstated the improvements at Foxconn.
Firstly, most of the actions completed by Foxconn are changes at the policy level only, but few substantial changes in labour practices were found at this stage.
Secondly, Foxconn has deliberately delayed implementing many of the actions called for in the remediation plan, even those that are almost cost-free.
Thirdly, workers have had no opportunity to participate in the remedial action process. SACOM has repeatedly demanded democratic trade unions at Foxconn as an indispensable step in reforming its labour practices.
“The devil is the details” is one of the quotations Foxconn CEO Terry Gou uses when disciplining workers. Gou’s statement is not only applicable to Foxconn’s production line, but also to the FLA report. The progress cited by the FLA is mostly on policy and procedure review, which is not equivalent to implementation of corrective action at the factory level. Therefore, it is too early for the FLA to conclude whether Foxconn and Apple have turned over a new leaf.
Last May, SACOM issued an investigative report on Foxconn’s labour practices in its Shenzhen and Zhengzhou factories, Sweatshops are good for Apple and Foxconn, but not for workers. Apart from a halt in the abusive use of student workers, no significant progress was observed. In April, we found that workers were still working up to 80 hours per month in overtime. Frontline management continued to impose humiliating disciplinary measures on workers, including forcing workers to write confession letters, read out these confession letters to the co-workers, clean the toilets and perform other menial labour. Workers still had little knowledge about the kinds of chemicals they were using.
Terry Gou always speaks proudly of “Foxconn-speed”. The world’s biggest IT manufacturer can build a factory in 76 days in Chengdu. When talking about legal compliance, however, Foxconn buys time by undertaking “gradual reform”. To be fair, SACOM agrees that some reforms take time to accomplish. However, it makes little sense that Foxconn is reluctant to immediately rectify some problems that do not require expenditure of much of the company’s considerable resources. For instance, Foxconn still refuses to deliver a copy of the collective bargaining agreement to workers, and workers are kept in the dark about the company’s remedial action plan.
SACOM reiterates that factory inspection alone cannot eliminate labour rights violations. A democratic trade union trusted by workers is the most sustainable solution towards decent working conditions.
Sze Wan Debby Chan is Project Officer for the Hong Kong-based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).