Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ABC News' 'iFactory' look at Foxconn tells us little we shouldn't have already known

ABC News aired its "Nightline" look at the Foxconn manufacturing plants on Tuesday night, but it wasn't really the hard-hitting expose we were hoping for. While there were some very interesting points made, there wasn't a lot revealed that we didn't already know from the earlier preview and reporter's notebook.

In the report, reporter Bill Weir spoke directly to factory workers as well as their managers, and went as high up as Foxconn executive Louis Woo, who is a special advisor to parent company Hon Hai's chairman, Terry Guo. Weir also spoke to Fair Labor Association (FLA) president Auret van Heerden.

Perhaps the most interesting comment in the story came from Woo. When questioned about worker salaries, he said he would be fine with a request, nay, a demand from Apple to go so far as double salaries. Of course, we'd expect those costs would be passed on to Apple, meaning it's probably not going to happen.

Other tidbits of information:
  • We already knew working at Foxconn was akin to living in a dorm. Workers who live in the dorms sleep six to eight to a room, and pay about $17.50 a month rent. They pay for their own food, which amounts to about $.70 per meal
  • Foxconn workers have 12 hour shifts
  • Workers make $1.78 an hour (on average, we assume)
  • iPhones and iPads are essentially all hand-assembled
  • It takes 141 steps to make an iPhone
  • It takes five days and 325 hands to make an iPad
  • The company produces 300,000 iPad camera modules daily
  • New hires have to undergo three days of training and "team building" exercises before they being work
  • Apple paid $250,000 to join the FLA, and is paying for the ongoing audit, which Apple requested after the Cupertino, Calif. company joined the FLA earlier this year.
  • The FLA (which Apple brought in to audit Foxconn) is interested in whether or not workers will look up at visitors in a factory. Would the employees be "willing to look at curiosities," or are they so trained to ignore everything except work
What's unclear about both ABC News' "inspection" of Foxconn as well as the FLA's inspections is if anything was covered up. As we noted before, the best way to do these inspections would be if the inspections were a surprise, which they were not.

And a new report seems to indicate that Foxconn did hide at least some things. SACOM (Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior) said that Foxconn hid underage employees during the inspections.

Apple's supplier code of conduct permits workers between 16 and 18 years old if that is legal in the country concerned, but it also adds special considerations for those workers, limiting how much and what kind of work they do.

The report said,

"All underage workers, between 16-17 years old, were not assigned any overtime work and some of them were even sent to other departments."

In addition, a Foxconn worker in Chengdu said she had been given three breaks a day during the audit, whereas she is normally only receives one break a day.

None of this should be a surprise. We've seen the same sorts of "hiding of issues" in inspections of garment workers, too. It's an open secret that this sort of thing occurs, and we can only assume that the inspectors and those paying for the inspections don't really WANT to find these issues.

Watch some excerpts below and watch the full report here.

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