French reporters infiltrate Zhengzhou Foxconn iPhone 5 factory, find few of the vaunted changes

Envoyé Spécial, a 60 Minutes-like program from public TV station France 2, went undercover at the Zhengzhou iPhone 5 Foxconn factory recently (within the past two months) and reported many of the same problems the Chinese manufacturer and Apple promised to fix earlier this year. According to the story that aired last night, dorms at the new factory were occupied by workers despite the fact that many were still under construction and had no elevators, electricity or running water -- apparently because builders focused on the production lines at the expense of housing. A Foxconn manager even warned employees on hidden camera not to plug devices into dorms that did have electricity, saying that eight workers were killed in a fire after overloading circuits.

In addition, reporters met lower-paid student employees who were of legal age to work there but had no desire to do so, saying corrupt school administrators illegally told them they'd lose their diplomas if they didn't take a job. Meanwhile, regular workers also claimed that much of their upgraded $290 monthly salary was still being absorbed by the company through housing, insurance and food -- with one claiming he only had $340 left after a year of toil. While that might be due to corrupt businesses in the area, the journalists found that Foxconn also levied numerous charges against employees, including around $7 for a psychological test that's supposed to weed out suicidal candidates. Labor groups claimed that many workers in the region were still putting in up to 150 hours of overtime per month while working up to 90 days straight without a break to make up the shortfall, far in excess of the company's promises.

Envoyé Spécial concludes all this is due to Foxconn's attempt to keep up with iPhone 5 demand at the Apple-focused factory, which one employee said is so difficult to make that the company needs to recruit relentlessly to stem the turnover of frustrated workers. Watchdogs there told French reporters that it's easier to find fresh blood in the provincial region while also shortcutting labor laws, far away from the prying eyes of watchdogs around Shenzhen, the hub of Chinese manufacturing. While Foxconn didn't discuss the above findings with French reporters, Apple told Envoyé Spécial that its subcontractors were required to provide safe working conditions, dignity and respect to employees.

We've reached out to Foxconn for comment (update: see its comment below) and spoke with Apple ourselves, who gave us the following statement:

Apple is committed to the highest standards of social responsibility across our worldwide supply chain. We insist that all of our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever our products are made.

Apple's full Supplier Responsibility report is available at the More Coverage link below and, for what it's worth, Foxconn was recently rated by the Fair Labor Association as being ahead of schedule in implementing required improvements to worker conditions. That report, too, is linked below. We hope the FLA will soon take a look at the situations detailed here.

French viewers can watch the show in its entirety at the source, or you can check the French-language videos below for excerpts.

Update: Foxconn Technology Group provided the following statement in response to our queries:

Foxconn takes our responsibility to our employees very seriously and we work hard to give our 1.4 million employees in China a safe and satisfactory working environment. We are mandated by our own strict policies, Chinese government law, and our commitments to our customers to ensure that the highest level of health and safety standards are applied to our operations in all locations throughout China.

As China's largest private-sector employer, we provide compensation and benefits that are much higher than the government-mandated wages and that are competitive with all of our industry peers in every location where we operate.

We are committed to the process of continuous improvement to our workplace policies and practices and we uphold that through regular reviews of our operations by our internal teams, customers, and government regulators and if any areas for improvement are noted, they are immediately addressed. One example of our commitment to this process is the Action Plan that we are currently implementing in areas throughout our China operations following the review earlier this year of some of our operations by the US-based NGO, the Fair Labor Association (FLA). A follow-up review by the FLA showed that we are successfully implementing that Action Plan and we are ahead of the schedule for completion of elements of that program.

Foxconn is not perfect, but we are making progress everyday and we continue to lead our industry in meeting the needs of the new generation of workers in China. That progress is reflected in our success in recruiting and retaining workers and in the reports of the many members of the international media who have visited our operations and who have freely and independently spoken with employees. Our goal is to continue to meet our responsibilities to our customers, to our employees, and to the communities where we operate.

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