Apple's Chinese factories to be audited after violation of
Local HR practice blamed, but suicides, long working hours
and disciplinary wage deductions give cause for concern
By Juliette Garside
January 24, 2012
The man's hand is twisted into a claw, crushed, he says by a
metal press at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, where Apple's
luxury electronics are assembled. He is looking at an iPad -
he has never seen one switched on. His mangled hand strokes
the screen, bringing it to life.
Back at the factory, where the buildings are swathed in nets
after 12 workers committed suicides in a single year, a young
girl emerges from the gates. Her job is to clean the iPhone
screens before they are packaged. She says she is 13.
These are a few of the many shattering images in performer
Mike Daisey's account of his 2010 visit to China. After
hearing about the Foxconn suicides, he determined to meet
members of Apple's largest subcontracted workforce.
What he discovered ultimately led to the firm's announcement
this month that it would throw open its factories to
independent auditing by the Fair Labor Association (FLA). A
non-profit group founded in 1999 after sweatshop scandals, it
already audits Nike, Adidas and H&M. Apple is its first tech
"In high tech to date there hasn't been anything like
external independent assessment, which is what makes Apple's
decision such big news," says FLA president Auret van
Apple has been auditing itself since 2007. Working hours are
a major issue. In China, 12 and 16 hour shifts are common. In
2008, 82% of factories violated Apple's limits – a 60 hour
week with no less than one day off. By 2011, the number was
68%. In 2008, half violated wages codes by deducting salary
as a disciplinary measure, or not providing pay slips. The
figure was 30% last year.
Apple has ordered retribution. Factories discovered employing
children must return the youngsters to their families, fund
their education and continue to pay their factory wage too.
Employers have been made to reimburse wage deductions and
settle unpaid overtime.
But six active and 13 historical cases of underage labour
were discovered at five factories last year. Mandatory
pregnancy tests were imposed at 24 Apple facilities.
When Daisey visited, he found worker dormitories where people
slept in bunks stacked five or six high, so closely there was
no room to sit. There were cameras in the rooms, in the
He found workers whose hands shook uncontrollably by their
late 20s because of repeating the same motions at the same
production line post, year after year.
The FLA visited China at Apple's request on a test project in
2010, following the Foxconn suicides. Van Heerden describes
what he found: "The whole campus has got excellent
facilities. The problem is that [it] still doesn't touch the
human being inside. You are at a work station all day - you
can't talk to anyone else.
"Then you go back to your dorm and you might not know anyone
there either, they might not even speak the same dialect. You
are in a situation where you might go days without anything
resembling human contact."
He seems to suggest that in China at least, the problem is
less about basic human rights and more about HR.
Foxconn has much to learn about human resources, judging by a
recent comment from the chair of its parent company, Hon Hai
Precision Industry. Terry Gou told an end of year party, at
which the director of Tapei Zoo was asked to share his
management techniques: "Hon Hai has a workforce of over one
million and as human being are also animals, to manage one
million animals gives me a headache".
Managing its supply chain will for now remain one of Apple's
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