Apple supplier Foxconn still struggles to limit working hours, labor group says

Foxconn had wanted to limit working hours at its factories to 49 hours per week

Foxconn Technology Group has come up short in trying to limit the overtime hours of its workers in China, but still made progress in improving the working conditions at three of its factories that make products for Apple, a labor group said Thursday.

The iPhone manufacturer has completed nearly all the goals in its plan to improve conditions at the three factories, according to a recent audit from the Fair Labor Association. But the manufacturing giant is struggling to cap workers' overtime to the Chinese legal limit of 49 hours per week.

Workers at the three factories located in Shenzhen and Chengdu are instead generally working less than 60 hours per week, meeting the FLA's own code on labor standards. Only for a seven-week period at one facility did working hours exceed 60 hours.

The plan to meet the 49 hours per week limit was an ambitious goal Foxconn set out to achieve, starting last year. Both Foxconn and its major client Apple had just faced harsh criticism from the public after The New York Times published a report describing poor working conditions at the factories.

In response, Apple invited the FLA to audit three of Foxconn's factories in China, resulting in a long list of "action items" to improve working conditions at the facilities. The three factories employed about 180,000 workers at the time.

Changes made at the factories include introducing more frequent breaks for workers, updating equipment and safety policies, and creating channels so that employees could anonymously voice grievances to management.

But the move to cap working hours was seen as a difficult measure to implement, according to labor experts. Foxconn relies on overtime to complete large orders for its clients, especially during peak manufacturing seasons. In addition, the workers themselves often wish to log longer hours in order to earn more wages.

FLA's most recent audit is its final report on the three Foxconn factories after starting the investigations over a year ago. The group said Foxconn's compliance with the FLA's own standard on working hours was a "significant step in the right direction."

In response to the FLA's audit, Foxconn said on Thursday the report demonstrates the "substantial overall progress" the company has made in its plan to improve the working conditions. "However, we recognize that there is more to be done, and that we must continue to sustain this progress and further enhance our operations," the company added.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FLA's audits only cover one part of Foxconn's work force in China. The company employs over 1 million workers at several different factories in country, and also manufactures products for Sony, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.

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