Apple, Foxconn improve factory conditions
Apple and Foxconn have improved working conditions at Chinese factories that make most of the world's iPads and iPhones, according to auditors the firms enlisted to monitor the process, but the toughest tasks still lie ahead.
The Fair Labor Association said local labour laws require the companies - which have come under fire over conditions at the plants - to reduce hours by almost a third by 2013 for the hundreds of thousands working in Foxconn plants across Southern China.
Foxconn said today it would continue to cut overtime to less than nine hours a week from the current 20, even though that could raise labour costs while also making it difficult to attract workers who often seek jobs with overtime so they can maximise their pay.
"It is a challenge. When we reduce overtime it means we need to hire more people and implement more automation, more investment on robotic engineering. More workers also mean more dormitories and recreational facilities; it takes time," said Louis Woo, special assistant to the CEO of Foxconn.
"But I expect more loyalty from workers as a result, and then we can save more costs on recruitment and retainment.
"Yield rates will also improve. Efficiency in terms of productivity, yield gain, retention and lower turnover rates should be able to improve next year."
Earlier this year, the FLA - of which Apple is a member - found multiple violations of labor law, including extreme hours, after launching one of the largest investigations ever conducted of an American company's operations outside the United States.
Apple, the world's most valuable company, and Foxconn - the trading name of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry whose clients also include Dell, Sony and Hewlett-Packard - agreed to slash overtime, improve safety, hire new workers and upgrade dormitories.
Mr Woo said Foxconn not only wants to do "the right thing" for its one million employees, it also wants to serve as a model for other companies.
In a report tracking the progress of those commitments, the FLA said it had verified that agreed-upon changes had been instituted and that Apple was trying to hold its partner, the world's largest contract manufacturer, accountable.
Auret van Heerden, president and CEO of the FLA, said in an interview that Foxconn faces a challenge from workers' expectations.
"A lot of workers have clearly come to Shenzhen to make as much money as they can in as short a period as they can, and overtime hours are very important in that calculation," he said.
"We are picking up concerns now on the microblogs about what's likely to happen as hours gets changed, and whether their incomes will be shaved as well."
Many people would leave Foxcom if there is no overtime, according to a post by "Shenzhen MarS" on China's Twitter-like Weibo.com message system.
Foxconn's Woo said the company has been constantly communicating with workers and telling them about the importance of the quality of life and health.