iPhone 11 launch marred by claims Foxconn factory broke labor laws

Phoebe Zhang, South China Morning Post

Posted at Sep 10 2019 08:29 AM

A woman looks at the screen of her mobile phone in front of an Apple logo outside its store in Shanghai, China. Aly Song, Reuters/file

One day before the launch of the iPhone 11, Apple and its Chinese supplier Foxconn have been accused of violating labor laws to produce the new model.

New York-based China Labor Watch (CLW) released a report on Monday detailing a string of alleged violations at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory, in the central province of Henan, mostly relating to the employment conditions of temporary workers.

According to the report, temporary workers – recruited through contracted agencies – now make up half or more of the workforce at the Zhengzhou facility, with workers putting in at least 100 overtime hours a month.

China’s labor laws stipulate that temporary workers “shall not exceed 10 percent of the total workforce” and that “monthly overtime work hours shall not exceed 36 hours”.

The report also found temporary workers allegedly did not receive the same benefits as full-time employees, including paid sick leave, paid holidays and social insurance which provides medical, unemployment and pension coverage.

Chinese labor regulations require temporary workers – who should not be recruited for primary roles – to be paid the same level of salary, insurance and other benefits as permanent staff.

Foxconn started recruiting temporary workers – also known as “dispatch workers” – in 2016 through the use of labor hire companies which typically offer one-off “bonuses” to attract the workers they recruit. The employees have no direct employment relationship with Foxconn until they sign a contract with the factory, usually after working there for three months.

“Apple has done very little to improve the rights of workers in their supplier factories,” CLW said. “Apple claimed they care about every worker on the production line but, in fact, workers are paid wages that are close to or equivalent to the local minimum wage.”

Zhengzhou Foxconn – dubbed Apple’s “iPhone City” – is the biggest iPhone factory in the world and has previously come under fire over working conditions at the 1.4 million square meter (15 million sq ft) facility, where half the world’s iPhones are made. A series of suicides and protests by workers – allegedly over payment and harsh working conditions – have made headlines over the years.

In January 2018, a temporary worker jumped to his death from Zhengzhou Foxconn’s dormitory complex, apparently because he did not receive his bonus. In December, hundreds of temporary workers took to the streets of Zhengzhou claiming they had been cheated by the recruitment agencies out of their $870 bonuses.

Photographs and videos posted online showed groups of workers holding placards which read: “Illegal agents with Foxconn cheated migrant workers. Give me back my money.” One video showed people chanting, “We want our bonus money”. The protests were broken up by police.

CLW said its investigators, who had been employed at the factory for years, found working conditions had remained relatively unchanged. The base wage was still 2,100 yuan (US$295) which was insufficient to sustain a family living in Zhengzhou. Social insurance contributions had increased from 2015 to 2018, but still fell short of legal requirements, CLW said.

Other violations CLW found included recruitment of student workers, a lack of adequate personal protective equipment and safety training, and a failure to report work injuries. Supervisors also commonly used verbal abuse, the report said.

Apple conceded the number of dispatch workers was high, but dismissed most of the report.

“We did find during our investigation that the percentage of dispatch workers exceeded our standards and we are working closely with Foxconn to resolve this issue,” Apple said.

“We looked into the claims by China Labor Watch and most of the allegations are false. We have confirmed all workers are being compensated appropriately, including any overtime wages and bonuses, all overtime work was voluntary and there was no evidence of forced labor.”

Apple also said robust management systems were in place, including training on workplace rights, on-site worker interviews, anonymous grievance channels and ongoing audits.

Foxconn Technology Group confirmed that a recent review of its Zhengzhou operations had identified some workforce compliance issues, but also rejected the bulk of CLW’s claims.

“At no time did we find any evidence of forced labour and we can confirm that this facility currently has no interns working overtime,” Foxconn said.

“We did find evidence that the use of dispatch workers and the number of hours of overtime work carried out by employees, which we have confirmed was always voluntary, was not consistent with company guidelines. We did determine that the affected workers were paid all earned overtime and related bonus payments.”

Foxconn said work continued to address the issues identified at the Zhengzhou facility, which was being closely monitored. “We will not hesitate to take any additional steps that might be required to meet the high standards we set for our operations.”

Foxconn said it worked hard to comply with all relevant laws and regulations. “In all cases, and with all types of workers, we offer an industry-competitive salary and related benefits that significantly exceeds government-mandated levels.”

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