Apple and Foxconn Accused of Breaking Labor Laws in China to Produce iPhones

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Apple and Foxconn have been accused of violating labor laws at a factory where the tech giants are producing the new iPhone, according to a new report from China Labor Watch. Additionally, the nonprofit watchdog alleges that workers at the Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, the largest iPhone factory in the world, are working extreme overtime hours in violation of local laws.

Under China’s labor laws, temporary workers can only comprise up to 10 percent of any given company’s workforce. But according to China Labor Watch, roughly 50 percent of workers at the Zhengzhou Foxconn factory where iPhones are being produced are temporary. Workers earn roughly $1.68 US per hour standard and $2.52 US per hour for overtime, a wage, “insufficient to sustain the livelihood for a family living in Zhengzhou city,” says China Labor Watch.

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The 51-page report about alleged labor violations, first reported by Reuters, comes just as Apple is expected to announce its latest version of the iPhone at an event in California on Tuesday. Apple told Reuters that the number of temporary workers had “exceeded our standards,” but did not immediately respond to a request for clarification from Gizmodo on Monday morning.

China Labor Watch notes that temporary workers were rare before 2015, but Foxconn has increasingly relied on them in the past few years. Foxconn uses third party contractors to find the temporary workers, which aren’t given many of the same benefits as full time workers

Workers are also punished for not meeting stringent quotas, according to the nonprofit organization.

From the report:

There is a production quota every day. During the busiest time in peak season, the maximum number of phones that can be produced is 12,000. But on average, each workshop and each shift (day and night shift) produces 11,000 iPhones. In off-peak season, workers produce around 3,000 iPhones, and despite the production quota being much lower than in peak season, there are also fewer workers. As such, workers may have to work harder. If the production quota is not completed, workers will be reprimanded.

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China Labor Watch has been monitoring labor conditions in China since the year 2000 and has spent years compiling this latest report, according to the group. And while Apple and Foxconn’s use of temporary workers is getting all the headlines, there’s one interesting little fact buried in the report. Based on China Labor Watch’s estimates the amount that Apple pays for labor on each iPhone is tiny. Their estimate: “Each iPhone requires $4.64 in labor costs.”

You can read the full report here. Gizmodo will update this post if we hear back from Apple.

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Update, 11:57am: Apple just sent us the statement below.

We believe everyone in our supply chain should be treated with dignity and respect. To make sure our high standards are being adhered to, we have robust management systems in place beginning with training on workplace rights, on-site worker interviews, anonymous grievance channels and ongoing audits. When we find issues, we work with our suppliers to take immediate corrective action.

We looked into the claims by China Labor Watch and most of the allegations are false. We have confirmed all workers are being compensated appropriately, including any overtime wages and bonuses, all overtime work was voluntary and there was no evidence of forced labor.

We did find during our investigation that the percentage of dispatch workers exceeded our standards and we are working closely with Foxconn to resolve this issue.

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“Dispatch workers” is another term for temporary workers.

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog