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Five Key Takeaways from the FLA’s Foxconn Report

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This is a blog post from Human Rights First's Meg Roggensack, which appeared at www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/04/04/five-key-takeaways-from-the-flas-foxconn-report.

Last week’s Fair Labor Association (FLA) report on Apple’s Chinese supplier Foxconn should be a wakeup call to all companies that use global supply chains. Here are some key takeaways from the report:

To ensure respect for worker rights, there is no substitute for an independent, external review of company efforts. Apple had been auditing its factories for years, and was aware of serious and ongoing problems at Foxconn. But its efforts to remedy persistent labor, health and safety and environmental concerns fell short, in part because, as the FLA’s review discovered, workers had been coached to avoid discovery of certain violations. More importantly, Apple’s review failed to discover one of the most fundamental truths about the management-employer relationship: Apple had concluded from its own reviews that there was an effective system in place for worker representation, however, worker representatives were chosen by management, and workers had little understanding of these committees or their significance for employer-worker relations

Audits only get you so far. For several years, Apple has been conducting regular audits, looking at factory compliance with its own code of conduct. The FLA’s review was a “top down, bottom up” investigation of all aspects of factory conditions. Using a sustainable compliance model, the FLA focused on the employment life cycle, from hiring to departure or dismissal. It analyzed the worker-management relationship at every point in that cycle. This assessment yielded insights about the root causes of the serious worker rights abuses at Foxconn: excessive overtime and consecutive days worked; wage levels and benefit discrepancies; unsafe working conditions and the impact on workers’ well-being and attitudes; and the lack of worker engagement and involvement in decisions affecting working conditions. As the FLA has learned through years of audits, unless root causes are identified and addressed, improvements in working conditions are superficial and temporary at best.

Apple can’t go it alone. In joining the FLA, Apple acknowledged the value of a multi-stakeholder approach, in which brands join with customers and civil society to address labor, health and safety, and environmental impacts of global factory operations, in the absence of national laws or their enforcement. Apple needs to press other brands using the same factories to follow its example. Hewlett, Dell, Amazon, Microsoft and others should all align their policies and oversight to ensure that Foxconn and their other suppliers are given a clear and consistent message about what’s expected, how the brands will be engaged to drive, how quickly improvements must be made, and how results will be measured and publicly reported.

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