Photo: Wikimedia Commons
There was another mini-scandal about Apple’s manufacturing processes this week, after the Fair labour Association found lots of “violations” at Apple’s contract-manufacturing partner Foxconn.To its credit, Apple responded quickly and forthrightly and promised to address the situation.
But most people missed the most startling aspect of the FLA’s findings:
At least according to what they told FLA, the Foxconn workers want to work more, not less.
One of the FLA’s biggest findings was “overwork.” In peak manufacturing periods, Foxconn employees worked long hours with minimal time off. As a result, the FLA has demanded that Foxconn hire more workers and build more worker dorms, so this practice will stop.
But here’s the thing…
According to the FLA findings, at least, Foxconn’s workers actually don’t work ridiculously long hours. More importantly, by and large, Foxconn’s workers want to work more.
Why do Foxconn’s workers want to work more?
Because they want to make more money.
And working more, not less, is something that many workers the world over voluntarily choose to do–or have to do to earn enough money to live. And the latter problem is not just limited to China. Many Americans, for example–the folks who are lecturing Chinese about their working conditions–work two or more jobs to make ends meet, despite being paid well more than minimum wage. This hard work, moreover, is especially common in short bursts, when teams are trying to finish important projects, just the way it is at Foxconn.
And, in most places, this ambition and gumption is admired, not scorned.
Now, if Foxconn is forcing workers to work when they don’t want to, yes, that’s something to address. But according to the FLA’s own findings, that doesn’t appear to be the case.Of the hundreds of Foxconn workers the FLA surveyed, here’sdd what they found:
- 48% of workers thought their hours were reasonable
- 34% said they wanted to work more hours
- Only 18% felt they worked too much
In other words, 82% of Foxconn’s workers either think their hours are reasonable or want to work more hours.
But the FLA is saying that the “overwork” at Foxconn is a disgrace and must immediately be changed.
And there’s one more important point here: It’s not as is Foxconn workers are working hundred-hour weeks for months on end. The “overwork” the FLA is complaining about is defined as follows:
- During peak production periods, each factory exceeded 60 hours per week (regular plus overtime) at some point in the past year
- In a couple of peak months, about 40% of workers worked up to 70 hours a week and did not get a full 24 hour break at some point every week.
So in short bursts, the workers worked very long hours for 7 days a week.
Is there any successful worker anywhere in the world who hasn’t done that?
Most people understand that, to be successful over the long haul, you have to work hard, especially in short bursts. And working hard occasionally means working 80-100 hour weeks, not just 60-70 hour weeks.
There are probably plenty of violations and serious employee issues in Apple’s supply chain. And, as I’ve previously said, I’d love to see Apple invest more of its profits with its supply chain or other investments. But “long hours” at the Foxconn plants really shouldn’t be the primary complaint.
The vast majority of Foxconn’s workers say they are either happy with how much they work or want to work more.
And yet the FLA is treating Foxconn and Apple as though they are whipping slaves.