Activists: Foxconn iPhone, iPad plant improvements too slow

Tim Cook visits a Foxconn plant in March. (Credit: Bowen Liu/Apple Inc. via Bloomberg)

Months after a third-party investigation into the labor practices at Foxconn, the electronics manufacturer who counts Apple(s AAPL) as its most important customer, very little has improved, a Chinese labor rights group said Thursday.
Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, or SACOM, released a new report that says despite outside audits of Foxconn ordered by Apple, the contract manufacturer has yet to implement or even advise most employees of the audit’s findings and recommendations. The report was based on interviews with 170 Foxconn employees, according to Reuters.
“The workers are not aware of FLA recommendations” and “the workers cannot monitor the implementation of corrective measures,” says SACOM report (translated from Chinese via Google(s goog)). The group also says Foxconn continues its illegal practice of “unpaid overtime, excessive overtime” and called the company’s earlier commitment to improving conditions “just empty talk.”
Some things have changed, but not enough, is the group’s message. While employees’ base pay has increased, their overall salaries have fallen as overtime has been cut, as promised. But “some workers also had higher production targets and had to work unpaid overtime after pay hikes,” according to the report.
The FLA, or Fair Labor Association, was sent to audit Foxconn by member company Apple in January. In March, the FLA produced its report based on interviews with 35,000 workers at three Foxconn plants in China. It listed excessive overtime, unpaid overtime compensation, health and safety risks and communication problems as the main issues that “led to a widespread sense of unsafe” conditions at the factories. That same day Apple CEO Tim Cook visited one of the factories in China, and has promised to be more involved.
On Tuesday, Cook said in an interview at the All Things D conference that Apple “put a ton of effort into taking overtime down” for Foxconn employees.
Foxconn has acted agreeable to these modifications to its practices. This SACOM report comes just weeks after Foxconn CEO Terry Gou told reporters that improving worker treatment was “a competitive strength” and said that Apple was helping to pay for improvements to the conditions under which its most popular products, the iPhone and iPad, are built.
Unfortunately, it’s also not surprising that we haven’t seen vast improvements yet. When the FLA report was released, Foxconn said it was committed to compensating workers owed backpay for overtime, reducing working hours to within the Chinese limit of 49 per week, and improving safety at the factory — but it set its own deadline pretty far out: July 2013.
In a response to the SACOM report, Foxconn told Reuters: “The welfare of our employees is without a doubt our top priority and we are working hard to give our more than one million employees in China a safe and positive working environment.”