Can Apple Clean Foxconn’s Labor Image?

In another step aimed at improving its image as an employer, Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) main manufacturing partner, Foxconn, will allow workers to elect union representatives. The latest reform comes after Apple reportedly put pressure on the Taiwanese company to listen to its workers, who had been protesting Foxconn’s now widely reported abuse of labor rights.

The labor conditions at the company, which also manufactures electronics for several other tech firms, including Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), Sony (NYSE:SNE), and Nintendo, came into the spotlight after a spate of worker suicides in 2009 and 2010. Last year, Apple ordered an audit of Foxconn’s factories by the independent Fair Labor Association, which found several shortcomings in the pay structure and worker safety provisions. The latest plan follows recommendations from the FLA report and comes after other changes, such as increased wages and improved amenities, were made.

“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 organization,” the company said in a statement.

Currently, Foxconn’s labor union in headed by a senior member of the company’s management. However, it has now announced that voting to elect a chairman and 20 union members will be conducted every five years. Taiwan-based Foxconn employs around 1.2 million workers across China.

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“The process through which Foxconn’s current labor union representatives were chosen was not democratic because there was no open and transparent nomination of candidates, and it is not representative because more than half of the committee members are from management,” a person working on the election plans told the Financial Times.

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