It was back in February that the Fair Labor Association (FLA), at Apple’s request, began to investigate working conditions at factories in China operated by Foxconn, one of the Cupertino company’s biggest suppliers.
The move came in the wake of a long list of disturbing reports surrounding the treatment of Foxconn employees, with stories about unreasonably long working hours, dangerous working environments where some employees were being exposed to toxic substances, and cramped on-site living conditions. Suicides were reported among the workforce, and worker revolts were not uncommon.
The situation threatened to get out of control for Apple, pushing them to ask the FLA to help with improving conditions for Foxconn employees, of which there are thought to be more than a million in various locations across China.
The report states that the Taiwan-based company has, so far, carried out improvements in 284 areas, with 89 of these completed ahead of schedule. Improvements in an additional 76 areas are set to be carried out over the next 12 months.
As part of Foxconn’s efforts to address workers’ issues, the company has increased pay, cut working hours, introduced more breaks and improved safety on the factory floor.
However, according to FLA president Auret van Heerden, the next round of improvements will be the trickiest for Foxconn. These involve getting working hours down to China’s legal limit of 40 hours a week, something which “will inevitably cause uncertainty and anxiety among workers,” van Heerden believes.
Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz gained exclusive access to a Foxconn factory back in April, giving an interesting insight into life there. Schmitz described the facility, located in the southern Chinese city of Shenzen, as being more like a city, with its on-site fast-food restaurants, banks, cafes, grocery stores, a wedding photo shop and an automated library.
“After you enter the gates and walk around, you quickly realize that it’s also a city – 240,000 people work here,” he wrote. “Nearly 50,000 of them live on campus in shared dorm rooms.”
Despite the work being, as Schmitz put it, “tedious and boring,” around 500 people turn up at the gates each day looking for work.
With Apple’s iPhone 5 and rumored iPad Mini now rolling off the assembly line, it’s a safe bet to assume workers at Foxconn’s factories are currently busier than ever. No doubt the FLA is watching closely.