Apple taking one for the team in new labour rights abuse report

foxconn workerOne of the biggest stories of the past week I’ve covered in the Asia technology space was the latest report from China Labor Watch into alleged rights abuses at Apple supplier Pegatron.

In terms of the abuses uncovered by the rights group, they’re pretty similar to those detailed at Foxconn over the years which led to a landmark agreement between Apple, the Fair Labor Association and the Taiwanese manufacturer to sort out conditions at its plants.

When I say “similar” I mean things like overworking and underpaying staff, breaking local employment laws through discriminatory hiring, excessive overtime and the like and subjecting employees to sub-standard living conditions.

You can usually gauge the seriousness of the allegations by the speed of the tech giant in question’s response and the length of its statement. So it was that Apple came back within a few hours with a long response claiming it had undertaken 15 audits at Pegatron and that it had been “in close contact” with CLW investigating findings highlighted by the group.

It added:

Their latest report contains claims that are new to us and we will investigate them immediately. Our audit teams will return to Pegatron, RiTeng and AVY for special inspections this week. If our audits find that workers have been underpaid or denied compensation for any time they’ve worked, we will require that Pegatron reimburse them in full.

One para that was lopped off my story referred to the fact that Pegatron facilities, including the ones mentioned in the report, produce gear for a raft of big name technology brands besides Apple. Microsoft, Dell, HP, Nokia and Asus have all had kit made by the Taiwanese headquartered manufacturer in the past.

Beyond Pegatron too there have reports of various rights abuses, in Samsung suppliers, and Chinese manufacturers making kit for firms including Telstra, Sony and Phillips.

However, the fruity-themed Cupertino giant, unfortunately for it, now has a reputation which makes it easier for hacks like me and rights groups like CLW to build a compelling narrative around such incidents.

For better or worse that’s the way it is but hopefully with Apple taking a lead, as it is certainly appears to be trying to do, on improving labour rights among its suppliers, others will follow. We mustn’t forget Apple boss Tim Cook used to be the firm’s COO and so will be well aware just how big a task it is to clean up the supply chain.

This is a process which will take years, not months, but it’s reassuring to an extent that stories like this still make the headlines, because once they stop then the whole process of improving the rights of shop workers in countries like China is likely to grind to a halt too.


Jury’s out on Apple and Foxconn deal with FLA

foxconn worker


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.