SACOM: Foxconn, an Apple supplier, tried to hide underage workers before inspection


Employees of Hon Hai Precision Industry work along a production line in the Longhua Science and Technology Park, also known as Foxconn City, in Shenzhen, China, on Sept. 4, 2010. (Thomas Lee/BLOOMBERG)
February 22, 2012

A non-governmental organization is accusing Apple supplier Foxconn of hiding underage workers ahead of an inspection. VentureBeat.com reports:

Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer that Apple heavily relies on for its products, may have tried to clean up its act before inspectors from the Fair Labor Association descended on its factories, according to a Hong Kong non-governmental organization dedicated to workers rights.

Foxconn allegedly pushed underage employees out of sight before the FLA inspection, Debby Sze Wan Chan, a project officer from Students Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), tells AppleInsider.

“All underage workers, between 16-17 years old, were not assigned any overtime work and some of them were even sent to other departments,” workers from the Foxconn factories reportedly told Chan.

Apple’s supplier code of conduct allows for factories to employ workers aged 16 to 18, but they’re also supposed to receive additional protections

We’ve asked both Apple and the FLA for further comment and will update when we hear back.

Let’s be clear: SACOM isn’t alleging that Foxconn is hiding workers under 16, which would be a major child labor issue. Instead, the group says the supplier simply moved slightly older workers around to avoid scrutiny from the FLA. It makes sense for Foxconn to shape up in preparation for a highly publicized inspection, the real question is how these 16 to 18 year old employees are treated once the spotlights disappear.

On Tuesday night, ABC’s Nightline ran a story on the beleaguered company, which pays its workers $1.78 an hour. The Verge reports:

After teasing the story yesterday, Nightline has aired its report from Foxconn's factories on ABC. In the report, host Bill Weir speaks directly to factory workers as well as their managers. You would think that this "unprecedented" look inside Apple factories would reveal much we didn't know, but the show was relatively light on information. Weir did extensively survey the places where iPads and iPhones are constructed, spent time interviewing both employees and their families, and talked to FLA president Auret van Heerden, though he uncovered mostly familiar information.

We've compiled a list of the most interesting facts in bullet points below, but we're left feeling like there wasn't much meat on the bones of the 30-minute report. Perhaps most interesting? Foxconn executive Louis Woo said that he would actually like it if Apple demanded that the company double the pay of factory employees. Your move, Apple.

Here's the rest of what we learned:

• It takes 141 steps to make an iPhone, and the devices are essentially all handmade

• It takes five days and 325 hands to make a single iPad

• Foxconn produces 300k iPad camera modules per day

• Foxconn workers pay for their own food — about $.70 per meal, and work 12 hour shifts

• Workers who live in the dorms sleep six to eight a room, and pay $17.50 a month to do so

• Workers make $1.78 an hour

A few days before Nightline’s report, FLA said that it had discovered “tons of issues” at a Foxconn plant. Bloomberg reports:

The Fair Labor Association, a watchdog monitoring working conditions at makers of Apple Inc. products, has uncovered “tons of issues” that need to be addressed at a Foxconn Technology Group plant in Shenzhen, China, FLA Chief Executive Officer Auret van Heerden said.

Van Heerden made the comments in a telephone interview after a multiday inspection of the factory. Apple, the first technology company to join the FLA, said on Feb. 13 that it asked the Washington-based nonprofit organization to inspect plants owned by three of its largest manufacturing partners.

“We’re finding tons of issues,” van Heerden said en route to a meeting where FLA inspectors were scheduled to present preliminary findings to Foxconn management. “I believe we’re going to see some very significant announcements in the near future.”

He declined to elaborate on the findings. The FLA plans to release more information about its inspection in the coming weeks. By then, the company will have had a chance to contest or agree to steps to prevent further violations.

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