Progress at Foxconn factories, but working hours still exceed Chinese laws

Foxconn wants to bring its employees' working time to China's legal limit of 49 hours per week

Employees at the Chinese factories of Apple supplier Foxconn continue to work beyond the country's legal limit of 49 hours a month, according to a report from the Fair Labor Association (FLA). But the Taiwanese manufacturer is making overall steady progress in improving the working conditions at a select group of factories in China, it said.

The report released Thursday is the latest audit from the FLA, which has been tasked by Apple to monitor the working conditions at three Foxconn factories in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Chengdu that produce iPad and iPhone products. Since the initial audits were carried out in February of last year, the factories have instituted new changes, including enforcing breaks for workers and stopping student interns from logging overtime hours.

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Foxconn has made "significant progress" in reducing employee working time to 60 hours per week, or what Apple demands in its own labor code, according to the audit. Workers at two of the three factories in China logged between 40 and 60 hours per week. At the other factory, the working time for employees was largely the same, except for three weeks in September and October where the hours ranged between 40 and 70 per week.

The manufacturer has yet to cut down employee work time to 49 hours per week, a goal the company wants to reach by July of this year. Chinese labor laws limit working hours to only 40 per week, plus an additional 9 hours for overtime.

In its audit, the FLA also noted an increase in workers joining the factory's labor union committees, which had previously been made up mostly of managerial staff. Now workers make up about a third of the unions at the three factories. In addition, no student interns have been used at two of the factories since June 2012 and September 2011. Together, the three Foxconn facilities audited employ over 178,000 workers.

Foxconn's progress in improving the factories' working conditions is part of a 15-month "action plan" to keep the company in line with the FLA's labor code. The manufacturing giant has nearly completed most of the items in the action plan, putting the company largely ahead of schedule to complete the remaining goals by this July, Foxconn said Friday in a statement.

The FLA's audits, however, only cover three Foxconn factories in China. The company also has two other assembly facilities in the Chinese cities of Taiyuan and Zhengzhou that make products for Apple. The factory in Zhengzhou employs over 120,000 workers, while the other in Taiyuan employs about 79,000.

Other labor groups have been critical of Foxconn. Despite the company's efforts to make changes, most workers at Foxconn factories believe their labor unions have been ineffective at solving their problems, according to a May study from Hong Kong-based Student & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). In some cases, workers have called the union hotline, only to be later punished by their superiors, the study added.

Apple did not respond for comment.

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