Foxconn Finally Agrees To Improve Conditions For Apple Plant Workers By Cutting Hours

After a spate of controversial reports on the working conditions at Foxconn’s Chinese factories where many of Apple’s products are made, the two companies have announced a cut in hours that will benefit workers. An auditing company hired by Apple and Foxconn has been monitoring the process, and says things are on the way toward improving.

According to the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit global monitoring group , Chinese labor laws required the companies  to cut down on the amount of hours employees work at Foxconn plants by almost a third by 2013, reports the New York Times. Overtime will be cut to less than nine hours per week, way down from the current 20 hours.

That could prove tricky, however, as many workers are attracted to plants by the amount of overtime they’re able to work in order to make more money.

“It is a challenge,” said Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn’s chief executive. “When we reduce overtime, it means we need to hire more people and implement more automation, more investment on robotic engineering. More workers also mean more dormitories and recreational facilities. It takes time.”

An Apple spokesman chimed in with a statement as well, saying the company has been active in improving working conditions for workers making their iPads and iPhones.

“We’ve been making steady progress in reducing excessive work hours throughout our supply chain. We track working hours weekly for over 700,000 workers and currently have 97 percent compliance with the 60-hour maximum workweek specified in our code of conduct.”

Other changes the two companies have pledged to make in addition to the whittled down working hours include better safety, the hiring of new workers and significant  improvements to the dormitories where employees live.

The Fair Labor Association’s report confirmed that the steps to improve conditions have taken place, and that Apple is making an effort to hold Foxconn accountable. However another group with an eye on the situation, China Labor Watch, said it’s still not enough and that the changes could actually end up harming workers.

“Workers have to complete the workload of 66 hours before within 60 hours now per week. As a result, the workers get lower wages but have to work much harder.”

What isn’t being said here seems to be that because all of these improvements could cost Apple and Foxconn money — for example, increasing pay to convince workers not to flee to to other factories to get overtime back — that cost could be passed on to the consumer in the form of more expensive products. It remains to be seen, however. Whether or not paying a bit more for your iPad is worth it to ensure workers have better conditions, well, that’s up to you.

Foxconn and Apple Improve Conditions [New York Times]