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Apple supplier Foxconn improves working conditions at Chinese factories, report says

The Fair Labor Association (FLA), which has been working with Apple on an audit of its top supplier Foxconn, has said that Foxconn has made progress on improvements to things like overtime and working conditions.

The FLA conducted a thorough investigation of several Foxconn factories in China earlier this year, and released a report in March that found excessive overtime and unsafe working conditions. As a result, it recommended several changes to Foxconn's policies and workflow, which Foxconn agreed to implement over the next 15 months. In late June and early July, the FLA returned to chart Foxconn's progress thus far.

"Our verification shows that the necessary changes, including immediate health and safety measures, have been made," Auret van Heerden, president and CEO of the FLA, said in a statement. "We are satisfied that Apple has done its due diligence thus far to hold Foxconn accountable for complying with the action plan, including the commitment to reform its internship program."

Those internship changes included promises that interns would not work overtime, that their work was directly related to their field of study, and that they knew they could leave the internship at any time.

Foxconn has until July 2013 to bring its factories into full compliance with Chinese legal limits on overtime. The FLA said today that Foxconn has already dropped overtime to less than 60 hours per week, including overtime, which will drop further to 40 hours, plus an average of nine hours of overtime by next year.

"This commitment was one of the most significant to flow from the assessments," the FLA said.

Van Heerden said the next phase of changes will be challenging for Foxconn because they involve changes that might unnerve workers who might not want their hours scaled back. "Consultation with workers on the changes and implications will be critical to a successful transition," said van Heerden.

On the safety front, Foxconn has enforced ergonomic breaks, changed the design of workers' equipment to guard against repetitive stress injuries, updated maintenance policies to ensure equipment is working properly, and tested emergency protective equipment like eyewashes and sprinklers.

The full report is available on the FLA website.

Apple asked the FLA to conduct audits of Apple's final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn. The issue made headlines after a series of articles in the New York Times questioned whether Apple products are manufactured under safe and humane conditions. Concerns about Foxconn, however, have been going on much longer, with reports about worker suicides making news since at least 2010.