Workers at Foxconn, the massive factory complex in China that supplies U.S. tech giant Apple and dozens of other titans of electronic industry, will soon see reduced hours, higher wages and improved working conditions according to a company statement in response to a devastating new report by the Fair Labor Association (FLA).
Apple joined the FLA in January as criticism against Foxconn began to reach thunderous levels. The factory, which hires over 1.2 million Chinese workers, has been plagued by horror stories of awful working conditions, long hours, unsafe conditions and abusive managers. In once instance last year, about 300 people threatened to jump to their deaths — a galling protest which they hoped would force the factory’s management into giving them more pay.
When they joined the FLA, Apple earned the distinction of becoming the first tech company to do so. The Washington, D.C.-based group has for most of its short life been dedicated to stamping out sweat shop labor at facilities utilized by companies like Nike, Barnes & Noble, Liz Claiborne, Puma and American Eagle Outfitters.
When Apple was confronted by petitions from its most enthusiastic users earlier this year demanding that the company do something to improve their workers’ conditions, Apple CEO Tim Cook insisted that they care about Chinese laborers — so he pulled the trigger on the company’s FLA membership and asked for an official audit of China’s largest employer.
That audit has now been completed. Following a survey of more than 35,000 Foxconn workers, the FLA warned that Foxconn abuses its labor force in a number of ways. Their factories reportedly subject employees to work weeks that often exceed 76 hours — the maximum allowed by Chinese law — and they often spend seven days on the job without much in the way of breaks. The audit also uncovered numerous health and safety violations, cautioning that Foxconn must correct the situation.
Foxconn said Thursday that it would comply and correct the situation over the next 16 months. They did not specify how much wages would increase, or how much hours would decrease, but it’s also likely the company’s changing arrangements with workers also has a lot to do with their plans to implement an increasing level of automation and cut down on their human workforce.
Whether conditions really will improve for Foxconn workers still remains to be seen, but Thursday’s announcement can still only be seen as a victory for U.S. labor activists, many of whom are still learning how they can utilize the Internet to influence corporations and create positive change in communities around the world.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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