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Thursday, March 29, 2012, 01:44 pm PT (04:44 pm ET)

Foxconn promises to fix a multitude of violations found by FLA audit

A Fair Labor Association audit of working conditions at Apple supplier Foxconn's plants has revealed a number of violations, but the Chinese company has reportedly vowed to rectify the situation.

The FLA posted its first report on Thursday through its website, saying that it found excess working times and various code violations at the three Foxconn factories investigated.

“The Fair Labor Association gave Apple’s largest supplier the equivalent of a full-body scan through 3,000 staff hours investigating three of its factories and surveying more than 35,000 workers," said Auret van Heerden, President and CEO of the FLA. "Apple and its supplier Foxconn have agreed to our prescriptions, and we will verify progress and report publicly.”

Apple first joined forces with the FLA in January amid a slew of high-profile media stories highlighting labor issues in the Cupertino, Calif., company's supply chain. The iPhone maker sought to resolve reports of working conditions that were incongruent with supplier responsibility policies.

For its part, Foxconn pledged to bring its factories up to spec with Chinese laws and the FLA's Code by July 2013. Part of the remediation would include bringing working hours down to the legal limit of 49 hours per week including overtime, and a reduction in monthly overtime from 80 to 36 hours.

The FLA found that during peak production periods within the past 12 months, the average number of hours worked per week was over the code's limit of 60 hours per worker. Some employees were reported to have worked more than seven days in a row without taking a mandated 24 hours off.

One of the issues regarding the working hours is that some employees are opting to work longer shifts for the higher wages. To resolve this, Foxconn has agreed to create a better compensation package to offset the losses workers would face by decreasing their overtime hours.

Some 14 percent of employees are possibly affected by the Chinese manufacturer's overtime payment structure, which currently counts work time in 30-minute increments. The FLA reached an agreement with both Foxconn and Apple to retroactively pay any outstanding overtime wages.

As for the level of pay, an employee survey found that 64 percent workers say that compensation does not meet their basic needs. To this end, Foxconn will work with the FLA in an upcoming study to help determine what constitutes basic needs in the company's Shenzhen and Chengdu locations.

Workplace conditions

Working conditions at Foxconn's factories have come under scrutiny in May 2011, when an explosion at an iPad 2 plant caused the deaths of two employees.

According to the worker survey, over 43 percent say that they have seen or been part of an accident while in the factory. The exact number of accidents can't be accurately reported because Foxconn's previous rules only recorded an incident that stopped production. This will change immediately, however, and the company is now requiring that all supervisors and employees report injuries as soon as they occur.

During the audit, Foxconn corrected safety problems like blocked exits, lack of or faulty personal protective equipment and missing permits.

Since the Chengdu incident, the company has apparently made advances in risk measurement and reporting to ensure that an accident of that magnitude won't occur again.

Chance to become an industry leader

The FLA said that Foxconn has the opportunity to become the gold standard in China for factory workers' rights, though the current situation is less than optimal.

The factory worker's union is basically a shell organization led by management representatives. In order to provide true worker representation, Foxconn has agreed to hold elections without interference from the management

All of the promises mentioned above would be a giant leap forward from current conditions, and would bring the factory's standards more in line with western counterparts.

“If implemented, these commitments will significantly improve the lives of more than 1.2 million Foxconn employees and set a new standard for Chinese factories,” van Heerden said.

Earlier on Thursday, it was reported that Apple CEO Tim Cook visited Foxconn's new Zengzhou plant, which employs 120,000 workers, as part of his China tour that has so far seen talks with chinese officials and local Apple Store visits.