It appears that Apple's problems with its outsourced workforce are about to resurface.
Last winter, Speed Matters joined the media in reporting on the worker abuses at Apple's suppliers in China. In February 2012, we wrote that Apple had appointed the Fair Labor Association to investigate conditions and report back to the company.
FLA produced a report, which detailed such things as "excessive overtime and problems with overtime compensation; several health and safety risks; and crucial communication gaps that have led to a widespread sense of unsafe working conditions among workers." Apple promised to take action, and the matter disappeared from the front pages.
Now, however, comes another report on Apple from China Labor Watch, a New York-based watchdog group, that "has conducted a series of in-depth assessments of factories in China... for some of the largest U.S. companies." Although the FLA report was fair, as far as it went, it overlooked the largest area of violations, the use of contingent, or so-called dispatched, labor.
CLW wrote that, "Except for Foxconn in Shenzhen which transferred all dispatched workers to direct-hire status in 2011, all other investigated factories overused dispatched labor, including Jabil in Shenzhen where dispatched labor made up almost 70% of the workforce."
As have other observers, CLW emphasizes that labor problems are not confined to Foxconn, and that Foxconn may be one of the better employers. Nevertheless many less well-known manufacturers use this more vulnerable and exploited form of temporary labor. Specifically, factories can use dispatched labor to, among other things:
- employ people short-term without having to pay severance compensation.
- shift responsibility for worker injuries onto another party.
- prevent workers from organizing into unions or establishing democratic management systems.
China Labor Watch looked at eight factories, including several Foxconn plants producing Apple products. CLW acknowledges that the report is incomplete, because Chinese authorities often prevented researchers from completing interviews or making inspections. However, the weight of evidence makes it clear: Apple's efforts, while perhaps well-intentioned, come nowhere near a full remedy of the ongoing problem of labor abuse.
Until Chinese workers are allowed to form strong, independent trade unions capable of confronting management and authorities, labor will remain at risk.
Apple's response to Foxconn outcry is swift but flawed (Speed Matters, Feb. 14, 2012)
Foxconn Investigation Report (Fair Labor Association, Mar. 29, 2012)
China Labor Watch (website)
Beyond Foxconn : Deplorable Working Conditions Characterize Apple's Entire Supply Chain (China Labor Watch, Jun. 27, 2012)