Foxconn targeted again over human rights

Far east manufacturing giant Foxconn Electronics (Hon Hai Precision Industry), makers of Apple’s iPhone and iPad, have once again been targeted by human rights activists over long working hours, poor conditions and low pay.

Activists claim factory staff worked up to 12-hour days for nearly two weeks at a time, in the six months before the launch of Apple’s best selling iPad.

The report from Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) called ‘Workers as Machines: Military Management in Foxconn,’ covers a four month period.

One worker told SACOM: “We produced the first generation iPad. We were busy throughout a 6-month period and had to work on Sundays. We only had a rest day every 13 days. And there was no overtime premium for weekends. Working for 12 hours a day really made me exhausted.”

SACOM claim overtime is compulsory: “Despite fatigue, workers cannot reject overtime work, because Foxconn requires workers to sign a Voluntary Overtime Pledge. Since the basic wage is not enough for survival, workers have no choice but to earn their living from the overtime premium,” the report claims. “

SACOM interviewed about 100 workers outside the factory compounds in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province and Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. At the same time, researchers took jobs as undercover workers in Foxconn’s production facilities in Shenzhen and Hangzhou in May and July respectively to make first-hand observations on the working conditions in the company.

The report also includes research findings from a group of scholars and students from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, which cover other production facilities in cities including Nanjing, Kunshan, Tianjin, Shanghai, Langfang, Wuhan and Taiyuan.

SACOM also includes photographs inside the factories taken by journalist Thomas Lee, as cameras and mobile phones are forbidden by management to be taken on the shop floor.

In recent months Foxconn has been heavily criticized for a succession of suicides and attempted suicides. SACOM names 17 individuals in the report who either died or “survived with injuries” from suicide attempts in the period between January and August 2010. Between 2000 and 2006, China averaged 15.05 suicide-related deaths per 100,000 people, according to a November 2008 study published in The Lancet medical journal.

In June 2010, Foxconn announced plans to raise wages and improve working conditions in a prolonged effort to prevent further deaths amongst workers.

Monthly pay for front line employees will be raised to 2,000 Chinese Yuan ($292/£184) per month for those that pass a performance evaluation, Foxconn said at the time.

New workers will be eligible for the salary increase after three months at the company. The basic salary of Foxconn workers prior to the start of raises was 900 Yuan ($132/£83) a month.

SACOM claims workers had not been informed of the pay increase until “mid-October” and that many may miss out and not be eligible, while others will receive only a percentage of the pay increase.

Long hours and compulsory overtime have at least eased slightly. “Even in the midst of the series of suicides, excessive overtime remained prevalent. The working hour only diminished in May. Since then, workers have to work 10 hours a day and 6 days per week,” the report adds.

Founded in Hong Kong in June 2005, SACOM are billed as a new nonprofit organisation, which originated from a students’ movement devoted to improving the labour conditions of cleaning workers and security guards under the outsourcing policy.

SACOM aims at bring concerned students, scholars, labour activists, and consumers together to monitor corporate behaviour and to advocate for workers’ rights.

SACOM notes Foxconn works for a number of high-profile companies including Apple, Nokia, HP, Dell, Sony, Sony Ericsson and Motorola.

The full SACOM report can be found here as a PDF.

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