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Foxconn builds products for many vendors, but its mud sticks to Apple

Michael Kan | Oct. 25, 2012
The name Foxconn has become shorthand for the human costs of building the iPhone in China, linking Apple to bad publicity about worker suicides, deaths from a plant explosion and rioting factory workers.

That's not to say labor groups have ignored other electronics suppliers. China Labor Watch released a report last year about conditions at 10 factories in China, including ones operated by Foxconn, Quanta, Catcher Technology and Compal Electronics. It found instances of forced overtime, harsh worker treatment and poor dorm conditions. Chinese factories used by Samsung have also come under scrutiny.

"We never said that Apple was the worst in the industry," said Debby Chan, a project officer with Hong Kong-based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). "Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Amazon and Nokia have the same problems."

SACOM has been one of the most vocal advocates for change at Foxconn. The issue was first raised in 2010 after a string of worker suicides prompted former Apple CEO Steve Jobs to defend its supplier. In a widely reported email, Jobs said, "Although every suicide is tragic, Foxconn's suicide rate is well below the China average."

"It was the main reason for us to target Apple," Chan said, referring to Job's comment defending Foxconn. While media and labor groups were looking into the root cause behind the problem, Apple ignored inquiries into the matter, she said.

Since then, Apple has been more active about addressing problems at Foxconn factories, for example working with the Fair Labor Association to audit facilities for labor violations. Apple declined to comment for this article. In the past it has said: "Our team has been working for years to educate workers, improve conditions and make Apple's supply chain a model for the industry."

Foxconn said it wants to give its employees in China "a safe and positive working environment and compensation and benefits that are much higher than government-mandated wages, and that are competitive with all of our industry peers in every location where we operate."

It provides housing, food allowances and medical benefits, and has raised wages five times in three years, it said in a statement. "Foxconn is not perfect, but we have made tremendous progress," it said.

While labor groups remain unconvinced that the progress is sufficient, Chan agreed that Apple's influence over its suppliers could help to improve working conditions in factories across China. In addition to Foxconn, Apple uses 155 other suppliers, some of which have also drawn allegations of poor working conditions. Chan's group hopes Apple will take the lead and help to reform the entire electronics manufacturing industry.


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