The Foxconn Factory Dilemma and Apple’s Social Responsibility

As crowds upon crowds of Americans flood Apple stores across the US in eager anticipation of obtaining a new iPhone or iPad, an equally as…

As crowds upon crowds of Americans flood Apple stores across the US in eager anticipation of obtaining a new iPhone or iPad, an equally as massive amount of Chinese citizens surge toward the doors of the Foxconn factories, Apple’s supplier, in search of work.

Employees at Foxconn do not exactly have the mildest of experiences when it comes to the exertion necessary to churn out everyone’s favorite little gadgets. In 2010,  nine Foxconn workers jumped out of factory windows to their deaths within a three month span of time, leaving pressing reason for some critical investigation to take place within the factory. The concern that surfaced was none other than how to critically re-evaluate and investigate the treatment of workers. Foxconn along with Apple have recently taken substantial steps to reduce workers’ hours and stabilize pay in response to the Fair Labor Association’s (FLA) audit of the company.

The results of the audit have caused some significant changes for the circumstances of workers. An anonymous survey of over 35,000 workers revealed that of the most glaring violations being made at the factory, overtime sparked the harshest flame. Forced overtime stands as one of the most prevalent workers rights issues in China. Though law officially states that no worker can work more than 49 hours per week, the de facto circumstances show that no one really adheres to that mandate. Apple’s official limit is 60 hours per week.

Interestingly enough, whether or not this is a case of forced overtime is a bit in the gray area — especially considering that workers, more often than not, will voluntarily choose to go beyond the legally recognized 49-hour limit. Whether they choose this route out of a sense of personal, moral obligation or because they risk facing incrimination by employers remains in debate — perhaps it is a solid cross between the two. In any case, one thing stands for certain: there is a colossal need for steady work among Chinese citizens and more than a goliath amount of bodies to fill the positions necessary to produce the demands of Apple customers in the US.
Foxconn has proposed that by July of next year, some worthy changes will be taking place at the factory. For one, the 49-hour work week will be set in stone and, to supplement it, the workers will be able to take home the amount of money that a 60-hour work week presently affords them. And the changes do not end there, as Foxconn also plans to build entire new lines, dorms, and cafeterias in addition to hiring tens of thousands of new workers in order to keep the factories up to par. As of February this year, the wages of workers were raised by 25 percent with the intention of adequately ensuring that the cost of workers’ basic needs are covered — a measure that still supposedly proves insufficient given the feedback that the FLA has been receiving from workers. A cost-of-living audit will be conducted in order to better address the dilemma.

The big question that follows all of these well-founded questions is, well, who takes care of the cost: Apple or the consumer? How about both? Social responsibility certainly comes at a cost and, most importantly, one that is fundamentally grounded in humanitarian obligations to workers. This is an ideology Apple has publicly affirmed their recognition of and, moreover, one which watchdogs like the Fair Labor Association take an interest in monitoring. It will be interesting to see not only just how financially demanding these necessary changes will be and how the cost will be split between Foxconn and Apple, but also the degree to which American consumers may or may not be significantly affected by the factory reforms in China.

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