Defending workers' rights

Updated: 2012-04-05 13:58

(China Daily)

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Working conditions at Foxconn, Apple's supplier in China, have been the focus of scrutiny since some workers committed suicide at the factory in 2010. Yet despite the deaths and the media spotlight local government agencies have failed to conduct any proper investigation of the working conditions at the company's plants.

It is only since a recent probe of Foxconn by the US-based Fair Labor Association revealed "serious and pressing non-compliances" with its Workplace Code of Conduct and China's labor laws that Foxconn has promised to take action and improve the conditions for its workers.

Actually, the problems mentioned in the report, such as "excessive overtime and overtime compensation issues and health and safety risks", are not rare in China, where there have even been instances of slave labor being used at illegal brick-making kilns.

Many choose to attribute such problems to China's huge labor supply - the competition for jobs forcing workers to tolerate poor conditions and unfair treatment - but the blame can also be laid at the door of local government agencies that have failed to fulfill their responsibilities and protect workers' legal rights.

According to the recently released report of a joint investigation of Foxconn carried out by several universities over the last year and a half, non-compliance with China's labor laws was found in its branches in many provinces, but the local government agencies did not take any action. In other words, the local officials responsible for upholding the labor laws and workers' rights have failed to do their duty.

Such a failure cannot be justified. The Fair Labor Association and media outlets can label such plants as sweatshops and workers can protest at their treatment, but the working conditions they have to endure will never be improved if the responsible local officials choose to stick their heads in the sand.

It is almost a week since the Fair Labor Association released its report, yet no local government agency has made any response. That has led to suggestions that the working conditions in Foxconn and similar plants in China will not change, and lowered workers' trust in the local government agencies charged with defending their rights.

We hope the responsible local government agencies will finally step up to the plate and defend workers' rights as they are supposed to, not only at Foxconn, but at all other companies as well.