An investigation, carried out by two NGOs, has revealed allegations of excessive working hours and inhuman workplace rules at two major plants in southern China, according to The Guardian UK. Among the findings was the “anti-suicide” pledge that workers at the two plants have been urged to sign, after a series of employee deaths last year embarrassed the company and disrupted manufacturing.
The report accuses Foxconn, the company responsible for the assembly of the ubiquitous devices, of treating workers “inhumanely, like machines”. Five-hundred thousand workers in total are responsible for assembling millions of the i-gadgets
The NGOs – the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (Sacom) claim that excessive overtime is routine, despite a legal limit of 36 hours a month.
One payslip, seen by the Observer, indicated that the worker had performed 98 hours of overtime in a month, and assemblers attempting to meet the pent-up demand for the first iPad last year were sometimes pressured to take only one day off in 13. In some factories under-performing workers are required to be publicly humiliated in front of co-workers.
Personal lives are also strictly controlled at Foxconn. Workers’ dormitories can sleep up to 24 and one worker told the NGO investigators that he was forced to sign a “confession letter” after illicitly using a hair dryer.
In the letter he wrote: “It is my fault. I will never blow my hair inside my room. I have done something wrong. I will never do it again.”
Last summer, after a rash of highly-publicized suicides, workers were asked to sign a statement promising not to kill themselves and pledging to “treasure their lives”.
Foxconn expects to produce 100 million iPads per year by 2013. Apple sold more than 15 million iPads worldwide and has already sold close to 5 million in 2011 alone.
When the allegations were brought up by the Observer, Foxconn manager Louis Woo confirmed that workers sometimes worked more than the statutory overtime limit to meet demand from western consumers. Woo explained that all the extra hours were voluntary.
Workers claim, however, that if they turn down excessive demands for overtime, they will be forced to rely on their basic wage, which is the US equivalent of $200 a month for a basic 48-hour week.
When Woo was asked to explain the suicides and the fitting of nets underneath dormitory windows to catch suicide victims, Woo explained that away by saying, “Suicides were not connected to bad working conditions. There was a copy effect. If one commits suicide, then others will follow.”
In a statement about the issues at its supply base, Apple responded, “Apple is committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base. Apple requires suppliers to commit to our comprehensive supplier code of conduct as a condition of their contracts with us."
"We drive compliance with the code through a rigorous monitoring program, including factory audits, corrective action plans and verification measures.”