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News from EPI Apple and Foxconn receive unmerited praise from the FLA for improved labor practices

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For Immediate Release: Friday, November 8, 2012
Contact: Phoebe Silag or Donte Donald, news@epi.org 202-775-8810

Apple and Foxconn receive unmerited praise from the FLA for improved labor practices

The Fair Labor Association’s positive view of reforms for factory workers at Foxconn, Apple’s largest supplier, is imbalanced and exaggerated, a new Economic Policy Institute report finds. In Polishing Apple: Fair Labor Association gives Foxconn and Apple undue credit for labor rights progress, Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, and Isaac Shapiro, EPI research associate, analyze the FLA’s interim assessment of Foxconn’s progress in improving working conditions.

“The FLA’s progress report gives the erroneous impression that Foxconn has made decided efforts to correct gross workplace abuses when, in fact, many of their reform initiatives have so far been superficial, unsustained, and incomplete,” said Shapiro.

Major issues with FLA’s assessment include:

  • Foxconn receives a perfect completion score from the FLA only because the FLA gives Foxconn credit for reforms that are either insufficient or purely symbolic. For instance, the FLA grants Foxconn full credit for increasing the number of workers on a 32-person union leadership committee from two to “at least three”; the other 29 members can still be factory managers.
  • Modest progress reported by the FLA in the early summer of 2012 in important areas such as excessive overtime and the use of coerced student labor was not sustained by at least some Foxconn factories by August/September, as labor practices predictably deteriorated when Foxconn ramped up production to meet iPhone 5 demand.
  • One essential promise made by the FLA and Apple—that Foxconn workers would receive back pay for all cases in which overtime work had been illegally undercompensated—has been broken, and the FLA’s justification for this breach is wholly unpersuasive.
  • The most fundamental remedies necessary to address Foxconn’s ongoing violation of overtime laws, including ending violations of local law and ensuring that pay rates are increased so that there is no net loss of compensation as hours are reduced, have not occurred, and their completion is not even scheduled until July 2013. With fundamental changes in labor practices still only a promise, it is clearly premature to express optimism about the nature of reforms.

The FLA report also is inconsistent with recent independent investigations and media stories on Foxconn and its production for Apple.  These other reports find continued use of underaged labor by Foxconn, forced overtime in the production of the iPhone 5, and large-scale labor unrest.

Polishing Apple concludes that the ultimate responsibility for generating real and sustained improvements in working conditions endured by those making Apple products lies not with Foxconn or the FLA, but with Apple. “Apple has profited greatly from a production system that has long been defined by low wages and harsh and illegal treatment of workers,” said Nova.  “Apple has the responsibility and the resources to halt these woeful labor practices and to affirm the basic human rights of the hundreds of thousands of employees making its products.”

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