In November 2020, China Labor Watch (CLW) reported on a protest held by over 1,000 dispatch workers at Foxconn Chengdu. Foxconn’s dispatch workers were owed three month’s worth of hourly subsidies and bonuses, but Foxconn itself did not actually sign any labor contracts with the workers, effectively shrugging off responsibility. This ignited protests and concerns over labor conditions at Apple’s largest Chinese supplier. CLW interviews uncovered a series of labor rights violations, including forced overtime, recruitment discrimination, and sexual harassment.
Foxconn’s Chengdu factory is one of Apple’s main sourcing sites. Each fall when Apple releases a new line of products, workers labor around the clock to meet impossible production targets. Dispatch workers, or workers who do not directly sign labor contracts with factories but instead are outsourced by labor dispatch companies, make up approximately half of the workforce. The precarious nature of their employment makes them extremely susceptible to abuse. While Apple has gained a reputation for excellent product quality and customer service through its ‘AppleCare’ and ‘Genius Bar’ services, its reputation for labor rights is considerably less stellar. Despite Apple’s claims of having high standards when it comes to corporate social responsibility, year after year, serious labor rights violations occur on the factory floor.
From June to July 2023, CLW sent an investigator to Foxconn’s Chengdu factory to document the working conditions of Apple’s global supply chain. CLW’s investigation discovered that the problems uncovered in 2020 still exist in the factory. To this day, Foxconn Chengdu enforces a large number of illegal labor practices including the excessive use of dispatch workers, mandatory overtime, workplace bullying and harassment, and recruitment discrimination.
As a leading non-governmental advocacy organization for Chinese worker rights and labor rights, CLW strongly condemns the conditions at Foxconn’s Chengdu factory. As Foxconn’s client, Apple has failed to fulfill its responsibility to create a safe and fair working environment. CLW demands that Foxconn Chengdu and Apple respond publicly, correct the illegal practices, and compensate the exploited workers who were harmed in the production of Apple products.
Key findings from the investigation:
The recruitment process discriminates against workers based on ethnicity, religion, and gender, as well as against workers who display negative emotions.
Foxconn’s recruitment process discriminates against applicants on the basis of race. A hiring intermediary stated blatantly that ethnic minorities would not be accepted, meanwhile Foxconn’s official WeChat account stated that the quota for ethnic minorities was already filled. Confirming findings from previous reports, the investigation showed repeated barring of applicants from the Uighur, Tibetan, Yi, and Hui ethnic minority groups.
Pregnant female workers are also implicitly rejected during the recruitment process. If women are pregnant, they are not allowed, according to the factory’s policy, to take an X-ray that is required during their physical exam. Women who fail to complete the physical exam are not allowed to work at the factory. This, in effect, is an indirect rejection of pregnant workers.
Recruits also take a psychological test with test questions that screen for negative emotions. Those who display some range of negative emotions are persuaded to leave.
The above acts directly violate Article 12 of China’s Labor Law, which states that “Laborers, regardless of their ethnic group, race, sex, or religious belief, shall not be discriminated against in employment.”
The factory exceeds the legal limit on the number of dispatch and hourly workers allowed to work at the factory. Labor disputes in regards to deception or arrears of rewards and bonuses are commonplace. In recent years, the factory has also illegally recruited vocational school students.
Chengdu Foxconn employs a large number of dispatch workers, with the percentage reaching up to 50%. Dispatch workers have a higher likelihood of being assigned higher-intensity assembly line and night shift positions. Given the temporary nature of their position, they serve as flexible contractors and are often given the most difficult tasks. It’s also challenging for dispatch workers to apply for transfers, effectively trapping them in these unfair and grueling positions.
During the off-season when there is lower demand, dispatch workers get fewer working hours. They have disputes with the factory over promised bonuses and rewards. In 2020, CLW reported on the protest of nearly 1,000 Foxconn dispatch workers. Labor dispatch companies owed workers 3 months worth of hourly subsidies and rewards, yet Foxconn did not sign the labor contract containing these promises, essentially shrugging off the responsibility and causing mass confusion. This excessive use of dispatch workers violates Article 4 of China’s Interim Provisions on Labor Dispatch, which specifies that “An employer shall strictly control the number of dispatch workers employed which shall not exceed 10% of the total number of its workers.”
Foxconn has also illegally recruited vocational school students. Students were found interning at Foxconn Chengdu towards the end of 2022 where they were given the same work arrangements as regular and dispatch workers, including overtime and night shifts. Students were threatened by instructors that they would not graduate if they did not complete their internships, essentially trapping them in these positions. This violates China’s ‘Provision on the Administration of Internships for Vocational School Students,’ a law which forbids companies from arranging forced labor internships.
Forced overtime is common, meal breaks are inconsistent, and breaks are not guaranteed.
Employees work up to 65 hours during the off-season and 87 hours during the peak season when demand is high. This far exceeds the 36-hour monthly overtime limit imposed by Article 41 of China’s Labor Law.
Foxconn Chengdu marks any worker who does not partake in required overtime as being absent. If their total absences exceed 16 hours in a single month, the worker’s hourly subsidies are forfeited. In order to obtain these subsidies, dispatch workers are essentially forced to do overtime.
Workers stated that the longest continuous working period typically lasts 14 days, followed by a one day break. Especially during the pandemic, factory management strictly enforced COVID restrictions which required workers to work, eat, and live in the factory. As a result, workers were assigned shifts for half a month straight without stopping.
During factory training, workers were promised one hour for each meal break. In reality, they are allowed one hour for lunch and only 40 minutes for dinner.
Dispatch workers must forfeit their right to insurance before they are allowed to sign their labor contracts.
Although labor contracts state that social insurance will be purchased, in practice neither the dispatch company nor Foxconn purchases social insurance for dispatch workers or interns. They also do not pay required housing provident funds.
During the hiring process, the dispatch company staff requires workers to sign a ‘Commitment letter to voluntarily give up social insurance.’ The dispatch company then issues the worker their labor contract. What this means, in practice, is that workers are forced to forfeit their right to social insurance. The act of forcing workers to sign this letter is illegal according to Chinese law. Employers are also legally obligated to purchase social insurance and a housing fund for their workers per Chinese Labor Law, Labor Contract Law, Social Insurance Law, and Regulation on the Administration of Housing Provident Fund.
Workplace bullying, punishment, and sexual harassment are widespread.
Workplace bullying and punishment are common management tactics. If workers are even 10 seconds late, they are criticized by their line leader. It is common for workers to be verbally reprimanded, abused, or fired. This toxic managerial behavior constitutes a ritualized form of abuse that harms workers’ psychological health and well-being on a daily basis.
Female workers in particular are frequently verbally harassed. Sexual harassment occurs both online in WeChat groups and in-person on the factory floor. The factory does not enforce restrictions or punishments for these forms of harassment and its woefully inadequate sexual harassment training acts more as a client-facing display than an effective act of prevention.
Workers lack labor rights organizations that actually represent their needs.
Foxconn Chengdu has a labor union, but workers are not made aware of its existence when hired. Many workers spend their entire time at the factory unaware of the union, rarely knowing anyone who has used its services. Workers are given a card containing numbers to the labor rights advocacy hotline when hired, but they are often not utilized as they provide little actual protections. In effect, there are no true labor rights organizations or resources present at the factory.
Other violations of laws and regulations in the factory.
Foxconn Chengdu is suspected of numerous violations of the Labor Law and Labor Contract Law, including the following:
- Safety training is less than three hours, far less than the minimum 24 hours required by the law.
- There is a lack of paid sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, and marriage leave for dispatch workers.
- Entertainment and fitness facility operating hours overlap with actual working hours, making them useless to workers.
- Workers have no allotted time for rest, entertainment, or relaxation.
- The factory does not have a health and safety committee.
- There are no first aid kits on the factory shop floors and in the dormitories.
Overview of Findings
- Discrimination during the recruitment process based on ethnicity, gender, and religion. The factory actively does not recruit Uyghur, Tibetan, Yi, and Hui workers. The factory also does not recruit pregnant women.
- Discrimination during the recruitment process against those who display some range of negative emotions.
- An excessive use of dispatch workers, total number accounting for 50% of the overall workforce.
- A higher proportion of dispatch workers assigned to high labor intensity and night shift positions without the ability to change positions. During the off-season, dispatch workers work fewer hours than regular workers.
- Labor disputes occur as a result of dispatch companies defaulting on promised hourly subsidies and rewards. This has previously triggered protests by nearly 1,000 dispatch workers.
- Illegal recruitment of vocational school students. Students were interning at Foxconn Chengdu towards the end of 2020. Schools trap students by threatening to withhold their diplomas if they do not complete their internships.
- Only three hours of safety training, far less than the minimum 24 hours required by law.
- Forced forfeit of dispatch workers’ right to insurance.
- Excessive overtime. Workers are expected to work up to 65 hours during the low season and 87 hours during the peak season, far exceeding China’s 36 hour per month overtime limit.
- Forced overtime hours. The factory marks workers who are not present for overtime as absent. If absences exceed 16 hours in a single month, workers do not receive hourly subsidies.
- Work lengths of up to half a month without a break during the pandemic.
- Inconsistent meal times. Workers are allowed one hour for lunch and 40 minutes for dinner, which is inconsistent with the factory training’s promise of one hour per meal break.
- No paid leave for dispatch workers and lack of sick leave for regular workers.
- Workplace bullying and punishment. The factory punishes workers if they are even the slightest bit late, leave early, or are absent.
- Verbal sexual harassment in WeChat groups and on the factory floor. Sexual harassment training is woefully inadequate and unprofessional.
- Restrictions on bathroom and water breaks. Line leaders can give workers permission to take short breaks of just five minutes only after the workers have been granted permission.
- Unused entertainment and fitness facilities. Opening hours overlap with working hours, and workers are allotted no leisure time to make use of facilities.
- No health or safety committee in the factory, and no first aid kits in factory workshops or dormitories.
- Lack of actual worker representation. There is a labor union, but workers have never heard of it, let alone asked it for help.