Conditions improving at Apple factories?

To all the tolerant, activist, socially-just smart phone users out there–think long and hard about where your technology came from before you go on that next rant about the evils of corporate America.

The Globe and Mail is reporting that conditions may slowly be improving at a number of Apple factories in China, after a damning audit found that employees were spending up to 80 hours a month working overtime–like, hours on top of the regular 40 per week.

A little background on the situation:

“Global protests against Apple swelled after reports spread in 2010 about the suicides at Foxconn plants, blamed on harsh working conditions and alienation felt by migrant laborers, often from impoverished provinces, in a bustling metropolis like Shenzhen, which is home to two of the three factories the FLA inspected.

Apple has tried to counter criticism that its profits are built on the backs of mistreated Chinese workers. The FLA’s progress report comes a day after Apple’s market value climbed past $623-billion (U.S.), surpassing the record set by Microsoft Corp during the heyday of technology stocks in 1999.

The latest report card on Apple-Foxconn comes after first findings and a timeline for improvements were announced in March, though some industry observers said the original agreement was not entirely independent because of close ties between the FLA and corporate members.”

A detailed Reuters story had more on what the company is doing to improve conditions now. But Apple’s notoriety might be causing it trouble–Foxconn owners are arguing that slashing overtime hours means employees make less money, which in turn means they will head to other factories to find work that pays more if necessary. Current wages at an Apple factory in China? Anywhere from $400-$500. Current retail price of an iPhone? $649. Mmm, taste the social justice.

Anyway, here’s what Reuters had to say:

“The Fair Labor Association said on Tuesday local laws require the companies — which came under fire over conditions at the plants blamed for a series of suicides in 2010 — to reduce hours by almost a third by 2013 for the hundreds of thousands working in Foxconn plants across southern China.

Foxconn said on Wednesday it would continue to cut overtime to less than nine hours a week from the current 20, even though that could raise labor costs while also making it difficult to attract workers.

‘It is a challenge. When we reduce overtime it means we need to hire more people and implement more automation, more investment on robotic engineering. More workers also mean more dormitories and recreational facilities; it takes time,’ said Louis Woo, special assistant to the CEO of Foxconn.

‘But I expect more loyalty from workers as a result, and then we can save more costs on recruitment and retainment,’ he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

‘Yield rates will also improve. Efficiency in terms of productivity, yield gain, retention and lower turnover rates should be able to improve next year.’

Earlier this year, the FLA — of which Apple is a member — found multiple violations of labor law, including extreme hours, after launching one of the largest investigations ever conducted of an American company’s operations outside the United States.

Apple, the world’s most valuable company, and Foxconn — the trading name of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry whose clients also include Dell Inc, Sony Corp and Hewlett-Packard Co — agreed to slash overtime, improve safety, hire new workers and upgrade dormitories.”

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