Have just finished a news story for The Register on what Reuters is calling a ‘landmark deal’ between Foxconn, Apple and the non-proft Fair Labor Association over pay and working conditions at Foxconn plants.
Now we can all talk ad nauseum about whether Apple is being unfairly singled out here and whether the workers even want or deserve to be treated differently than the vast majority making our clothes, shoes and shiny toys.
But here are the facts.
People committed suicide at these factories, quite a lot in fact, and I don’t buy the fact they were all depressed country bumpkins out of their depth in a new environment – there must be something seriously wrong inside those plants to lead to that.
So a couple of points to note from this. I was quite impressed the FLA produced such a damning report of conditions – many groups expected them to either go easy on App-conn or for the factory owners to have improved conditions to such a degree for their planned inspection that they got a rose tinted view.
This didn’t happen.
So as a result of the guarantees Foxconn and Apple have given, overtime and working hours will come down to within legal limits, accidents will be more accurately recorded, internships adapted, and union elections will not be interfered with by management.
All of which is great, but I’m going to remain sceptical until July 2013, when the deadline for changes comes (why so far away, by the way?!).
For one, the report doesn’t mention the management abuses of staff – either mental or physical – which some argue contributed to those suicides, and the it also glosses over the widespread abuses of the internship scheme as uncovered by SACOM.
There are other guarantees given by Foxconn which will be very hard to substantiate – whether union representatives are elected freely, accidents are recorded properly and overtime compensation doled out appropriately, to name but a few examples.
The proof for this will certainly be in the pudding, and as I’ve said before, the key to it all is consumer pressure – that drifts away and things could very easily slip back into old patterns.