Foxconn Technology Group, the assembler of most of the world's top-selling electronic gadgets including Apple’s iPhone, is trying to raise participation in its union as part of efforts to dispel a rash of bad publicity over poor working conditions and labour disputes.
Taiwan's Foxconn, which employs more than 1 million people, mostly in China at huge factory complexes, hit the headlines in mid-2010 following a spate of worker suicides and widespread allegations of poor conditions, long hours and low wages.
Apple, Foxconn’s main client, asked the US-based Fair Labor Association (FLA) to review Foxconn's operations last year following the troubles at its plants and criticism of Apple itself for having its high-priced gadgets made in low-wage Foxconn plants.
Foxconn said on Monday it was increasing the number of junior employee representatives in committees within the union representing its workers. It said all its sites had been holding elections to increase the number of such positions, and the management was not involved in the election process.
“As a part of efforts to implement the Action Plan that was developed together with the Fair Labor Association, Foxconn is introducing measures to enhance employee representation in the Foxconn Labor Union and to raise employees' awareness of the organisation,” it said in a statement.
Foxconn's plan follows recommendations in the FLA report. It has already implemented other recommendations and has increased wages and improved amenities at its sites.
Foxconn is the trading name of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Labour analysts say that while latest plans show willingness of the company to engage its workers, they would not mean much of a change, with the key being how the representatives will be chosen.
“Only by letting the workers choose their candidates by themselves and then vote for them can they fully express the hopes of workers," said Wang Jing, dean of the department of labour relations at Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing.
“But anyway, it's good to see this. It shows that the company wants to improve its relations with the workers,” she added, noting that Apple was likely to be pushing Foxconn to implement change to protect its own brand image.
Foxconn's labour troubles are not unique in China, where many workers face much worse conditions, but because of the company’s high-profile customers, which also include Dell, Hewlett-Packard Co, Sony Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd, it has attracted the most attention.
Others were sceptical that Foxconn’s plans could lead