Apple's supply chain: A profile of a Foxconn factory employee

Apple's supply chain: A profile of a Foxconn factory employee

Summary: The Fair Labor Association's report on Foxconn's working conditions provides a nice composite sketch of your average Apple supply chain worker.

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The average Foxconn worker logs at least 56 hours a week, finds the factory stressful, has seen an accident, wants better air conditioning and plans on a tenure of about two years. That worker also wants better food in the canteen.

Welcome to Apple's supply chain.

After logging 3,000 staff hours while investigating three factories since February, the Fair Labor Association finally released its very detailed report about labor rights violations going on within the factories of Apple's largest supplier, Foxconn. What has emerged from the report is a composite sketch of the day in the life of an Apple supply chain worker.

The FLA found many severe violations when it came to excessive overtime as well as health and safety risks, among other issues.

See also: New Foxconn regulations will ripple through Apple’s supply chain CNET: Foxconn audit finds violations, fixes promised

FLA assessors surveyed more than 35,000 randomly-selected workers anonymously while investigating the charges against Foxconn. Approximately 65 percent of respondents were male and 35 percent were female. The average age was 27.

Overall, 65 percent of these workers also grew up in a village, and 72.2 percent of them considered themselves as migrant workers. At least a third of them had completed vocational school training, while 12.4 percent had a university degree. Only 0.1 percent had no schooling at all.

Approximately 87.4 percent of those surveyed were labeled as a factory worker, while 5.9 percent were supervisors. Only 22.1 percent of them are members of the trade union.

Based on the data published in one of the appendices of the FLA's report, entitled "Foxconn Technology Group Workforce Perception and Satisfaction Report, 2012," here's a glance at what an average Foxconn factory worker's experience might have looked like:

  • The average number of hours worked per week ranged between 56 to 61 hours
  • Worked more than seven days in a row without the required 24 hours off
  • Didn't receive fair compensation for unscheduled overtime, nor was compensation enough to pay for basic needs (especially for education and healthcare)
  • Finds work at the factory overall to be stressful
  • Lived in a crowded dorm
  • Either experienced or witnessed an accident while at work
  • Found the factory canteen and the bathrooms to be unsanitary
  • Found air conditioning and other ventilation systems to be working inadequately
  • Felt body pain at the end of a full day of work (most commonly neck, back, arm and hand pain)
  • Never heard of management consulting with workers or representatives about factory regulations and conditions
  • Never surveyed or asked about workplace satisfaction
  • Never used any communication channels to voice suggestions or complaints to factory management
  • Thinks that environmental issues and protection at the factory should be priorities
  • Has a friend or relative also working at the factory
  • Will only maybe stay working at the factory for another two years -- even if he/she doesn't have a sense of "belonging" at the factory

If factory workers could change three things, the most highly rated responses were salaries, more skills training, and the quality of food at the canteen.

The FLA has already issued new guidelines that it expects Foxconn factories to adhere to going forward. These rules include reducing the number of monthly overtime hours from 80 to 36, compensation packages that protects workers from losing income due to reduced overtime, and requiring supervisors and workers to report all accidents that result in an injury.

Along with outlining rules and regulations that Foxconn has since committed to, the FLA will issue regular progress reports about how well (or not) both Foxconn and Apple are implementing them.

A full copy of the FLA's report is available online now.

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Topics: Apple, Banking, Enterprise Software, Software

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109 comments
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  • Foxconn

    The item I didn't notice on the survey: "Number of Employees able to afford the product they're building for their own use".

    I'm sure that's the same situation in many places where "luxury" items are built, it would just be an interesting statistic to see.
    Max Peck
    • Why does that matter?

      Do you expect the grease monkeys at the Lamborghini factory to all be cruising around in $500,000 sports cars?

      I can't afford Apple products either, and I make more than dozens of Foxconn workers combined. If that is your measure of a base factory worker, you're going to have a product many times the outrageous price of today's Apple-logo items. Of course, that means the workers will just have to make even more money, upping the prices again...so in the end, you have workers who are fabulously rich but are the only ones who can afford the product they are producing! I suspect economic theory doesn't really allow for such a singularity to exist.
      jvitous
      • ok

        Replace "Lamborghini" with "food" or any other middle class necessity...

        Henry Ford's reincarnation you are not..

        Btw - apple ditched US workers and offshored it but did not lower prices to match. They pocketed the difference and wrongly called it "profit". Why should prices go up if the work came back here? Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul...
        HypnoToad72
      • @HypnoToad72

        Things like food, shelter and education I agree with. It's a little disingenuous however to suggest that factory workers must always be able to afford the product they are creating -- this definitely is not the case when it comes to luxury items, and in this case would not be even if the factory was here in the United States.
        jvitous
      • HypnoToad72

        HypnoToad72 has a point in comparing the Chinese factory workers to the early automotive industry. The point is that when automobiles were first being built, they were made for those who were wealthy enough to buy them. It was Henry Ford who paid his factory workers more than the current rate that helped those workers to buy something they built. The auto market would have been smaller if it was limited to the wealthy, by paying the workers better they were able to help make auto sales more successful.

        In this case, the point would be interesting if the Chinese factory workers make enough to also spend their money for the things they make.
        sboverie
      • @HypnoToad72

        While I agree with the sentiment, and in general dislike apple, the prices did scale relative to time passing. You never saw a huge profit dip because they're able to sell the iPhones, and a large portion of iPads completely subsidized by AT&T and other telcos, who saw a massive decrease in their revenue since they began selling them. Don't kid yourself, their profits aren't solely on the back of chinese labor, they're from the coffers of companies who failed to perform a decent opportunity cost analysis before committing to a contract.
        Tea.Rollins
      • Do you make enough to eat?

        It's not a matter of not being able to afford the products that they produce, it's a matter of they 1) Are working in unsanitary and unsafe conditions; 2) are not being compensated for their overtime; 3) are being fed unacceptable food in their cafeteria; and 4) have no imput, what so ever as to matters of safety and sanitation. I don't know where you work, that you can't afford an iPod, but if you had to work under even one of the above conditions - you would be screaming like a teenage cheerleader! I'm not a big Apple fan, beyond the iPod, but I am a big people's rights fan and this is an outrage and your trivializing the facts is just plain sick.
        timothyf7
      • It's a matter of where the profits end up

        "If that is your measure of a base factory worker, you're going to have a product many times the outrageous price of today's Apple-logo items."

        The problem is not the workers' pay driving prices up, it's that there is too much excess baggage in the chain. The investors are the ones getting rich, and that money has to come from somewhere. If you could leave the money-shufflers out of it entirely, you'd have an inexpensive product that workers could afford...and it would be the do-nothing money-shufflers that couldn't afford it, which is fine. Those who don't work, don't eat. (and I realize it's work going to an office and shuffling around your investments, not to mention stressful, but it's not work that benefits anyone but that individual; they produce nothing, they should be paid accordingly.
        While I don't like Apple at all...their business model or marketing strategy, this one is not their fault; our economic system is coming to grips with reality. Paying the workers enough to be able to afford the (normal) product should be a basic assumption. That money has to come from somewhere, and we can either charge more for the product, or remove some of the useless chaff...overpaid upper management, stockholders who do nothing but add money, etc. If there was a factory worker who sat on his butt all day and didn't produce any products, he'd be fired. Yet the money-shufflers, who do nothing, are honored by making huge profits, and then they don't want to be taxed on it.

        Pay the workers, blow away the chaff.
        garyleroy@...
      • Wow. So the products go up 49 dollars

        still affordable, looking at Apple's sales figures.
        William Farrel
    • HUH

      I work in a faucet factory and can't afford our products! I buy from K-Mart
      jimbritttn
    • I have an idea. . .

      I'm going to go get a job at a boat builder that makes very large yachts. After that, I'll go to work for someone who builds luxury homes. Then I'll get a job with the IRS.
      Robt.
    • Foxconn

      And if we had that same question on a survey of workers at a Cadillac plant or Mercedes Benz plant, the answers would be similar to what you're expecting at Foxconn. But do we think that's horrible or even very "interesting"? Of course not. More significantly, it's China -- and Foxconn there has the "entry-level" kind of employment we see here in telemarketing and McDonald's, etc., from what I've read elsewhere. Safety and working conditions are more important issues than salary.
      gerriel
    • A more useful question might be...

      ...what would most of those people be doing if they weren't assembling iPads. I doubt they'd be in much better conditions and certainly wouldn't be making more money.
      JohnMcGrew@...
    • Affording the product

      I am from Australia and even I can't afford some of the products they produce! This not a good argument to fly with.
      rrick
    • Be able to afford that which I work on?

      Do you really think if I could afford to buy a 747 I would be working on 747s?

      What?

      .
      rmhesche
  • Isn't Foxconn the place...

    That builds the xbox 360 game console? the Nokia phones, and even computers from the "Major OEMs"? Why does ZDNet have this agenda to claim everything bad is Apple's fault? Is it because Microsoft owns a portion of ZDNet, or is it just part of the advertising contract?
    Jumpin Jack Flash
    • Actually, yes, 2/3 of Foxconn's factories have nothing to do with Apple

      It is Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, many others, and even Samsung.

      And the hypocrisy of the media coverage comes with the fact that Apple's part of Foxconn's factories was the better one from very beginning.
      DDERSSS
      • So then

        Why does ZDNet try and focus all the ill will towards Apple? I know they like the iHaters, and Windows Zealots, but to outright fabricate stories?
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • ZDNet Anti-Apple?

        The idea of ZDNet being Anti-Apple these days is pretty amusing if you browse around the articles. It's pro-Apple if anything. Microsoft was also called out on the same thing long before Apple was.

        There is some hypocrisy that Apple is currently singled out over Foxconn. This is media-wide, not just ZDNet specific.

        But there are also some significant reasons why the media focuses on Apple at the moment.

        1. Other manufacturers margins are so thin that if their competitor goes to Chinese contract labor their options are go out of business or follow suit. Apple on the other hand could easily support good manufacturing conditions while barely denting profit.
        2. Apple's market demographic is more sensitive to this than the "I want the cheapest" market demographic
        3. People expect cheap looking low end Dells, HPs, and Acers to have been built by cheap labor overseas, but it comes as a shock that their shiny "luxury" iWhatever also comes from the same place.
        4. Apple has tried to present itself as more socially conscious than it's competitors.
        SlithyTove
      • Apple is just the one that got targetted by the media

        Foxconn's clients include Acer, Amazon.com, Apple, Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Motorolla, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, and Vizio. Apple was just the "big target of the day" with the iPhone/iPad success and big money pockets. ZDNet isn't too biased, just following the flow of the media attention.

        Still, to be fair, ZDNet should be pointing out the other companies that use Foxconn. Never mind that it was Apple that PAID the Fair Labor Association to audit the Foxconn working conditions. Give Apple some time to decide what to do with the findings, then we'll see where Apple truly stands.

        Meanwhile, why aren't the other companies doing something about it?

        Oh, and Foxconn has operations in Brazil, Europe, India, Malaysia, and Mexico, not just China.
        SpuddyBuddy