Apple and manufacturing partner Foxconn violated a Chinese labor rule by using too many temporary staff in the world’s largest iPhone factory, the companies confirmed following a report that also alleged harsh working conditions.
China Labor Watch issued the report ahead of an Apple event on Tuesday to announce new iPhones. The non-profit advocacy group investigates conditions in Chinese factories, and says it has uncovered other alleged labor rights violations by Apple partners in the past.
The Group has monitored the working conditions at several Foxconn facilities and investigations and has revealed a string of labor rights violations. In this year’s report, several investigators were employed at the Zhengzhou Foxconn factory, and one of the investigators worked there for over four years. Because of the long investigation period, this report reveals many details about the working and living conditions at the Foxconn factory.
Dubbed Apple’s “iPhone City”, Zhengzhou Foxconn is the largest iPhone factory in the world. Spanning 1.4 million square meters, it is here that workers toil daily to produce half of the iPhones sold worldwide. According to the report, the base wage remained at 2100 RMB ($295 USD), insufficient to sustain the livelihood for a family living in Zhengzhou city. Although social insurance contributions have increased from 2015 to 2018, this still falls short of the legal requirements. Pre-job safety training was shortened from two days to one day in 2017.
The report also claims that to manage the influx of orders during peak season, Foxconn employs student workers and dispatch workers. Student workers have been forced to work overtime hours, completing internships at the factory that are unrelated to their degree. Foxconn outsources hiring to dispatch companies and to attract workers, these companies offered bonuses for workers who are employed for a certain period of time. The bonuses fluctuate according to the demand for workers at the factory. However, many workers have reported never been paid their bonus. The factory’s internal references program is another tactic used to hire more workers during peak season. Workers are given referral quotas to meet, and the factory takes away the overtime hours of those who do not fulfill the quota as a form of punishment.
Chinese labor law stipulates “dispatch workers shall not exceed 10% of the total employed workers.” and “the monthly overtime work hours shall not exceed 36 hours.” Although Apple and its supplier Foxconn are aware of these restrictions on dispatch workers and overtime work hours, they do not implement these regulations. The Chinese government does not properly enforce laws, especially laws regarding labor rights. Multinational corporations helped drive economic development in China but they have also exploited loopholes in Chinese labor laws.
In a statement, Apple said it investigated the percentage of temporary workers among the overall workforce and found it “exceeded our standards”. It said it was working with Foxconn to “immediately resolve the issue”.
Apple also said it discovered interns at a supplier facility had worked overtime at night, violating company policy, and that “this issue has been corrected.” It said the interns worked overtime voluntarily and were properly compensated.
Foxconn separately confirmed over-reliance on temporary workers, known internally as dispatch workers.
“We did find evidence that the use of dispatch workers and the number of hours of overtime work carried out by employees, which we have confirmed was always voluntary, was not consistent with company guidelines,” Foxconn said.
It said it “immediately began a detailed process to ensure that all issues were addressed”.
Summary of rights violations at Zhengzhou Foxconn, according to Labor Watch:
- New workers have a probationary period of three months and if they wish to resign during this time, they must apply three days in advance.
- During peak season, regular workers’ resignations won’t be approved.
- After completing resignation procedures, factories will pay workers in around two weeks with no pay stub provided that month.
- Some dispatch workers failed to receive their promised bonuses from the dispatch company.
- The factory does not pay social insurance for the dispatched workers.
- In 2018, dispatch workers made up 55% of the workforce. Chinese labor law stipulates that dispatch workers must not exceed 10% of the workforce. In August 2019, around 50% of the workforce were dispatch workers.
- During peak production season, student workers must work overtime. However, according to regulations on student internships, students are not to work overtime or night shifts.
- Chinese labor law mandates that workers must not work more than 36 overtime hours a month. However, during the peak production seasons, workers at Zhengzhou Foxconn put in at least 100 overtime hours a month. There have been periods where workers have one rest day for every 13 days worked or even have only one rest day for a month.
- Workers have to receive approval not to work overtime. If workers do not receive approval and choose not to work overtime anyway, they will be admonished by the line manager and will not be working overtime in the future.
- If work is not completed by the time the shift ends, workers must work overtime and workers are not paid for this. If there are abnormalities at work, they must work overtime until the issue has been addressed, and work done during this time is also unpaid.
- Workers sometimes have to stay back for night meetings at work, and this time is unpaid.
- The factory does not provide workers with adequate personal protective equipment and workers do not receive any occupational health and safety training.
- The factory does not provide a single training class on fire safety and other relevant knowledge.
- The chairman of the labor union is always appointed by the factory, not elected by the workers, and the chairman is always the department leader or manager.
- The factory does not report work injuries
- Verbal abuse is common at the factory.
- The factory recruits student workers through dispatch companies, as student workers sent by schools are subject to many restrictions.
- The factory violates the “The Administrative Provisions on the Internships of Vocational School Students” which stipulates that student workers cannot be recruited by agencies or dispatch companies but only schools.