The Fair Labor Association has just completed a massive investigation into the manufacturing processes of Foxconn, the giant product-assembler that builds most of Apple's products, along with those of other electronics manufacturers.
One of the FLA's biggest findings was "overwork." In peak manufacturing periods, Foxconn employees worked long hours with minimal time off. As a result, the FLA has demanded that Foxconn hire more workers and build more worker dorms, so this practice will stop.
But here's what seems ridiculous about that.
Foxconn's workers actually don't work absurdly long hours, especially by the standards of most successful, ambitious people. More importantly, by and large, Foxconn's workers want to work more, not less. At least that's what they told the investigators.
Why do Foxconn's workers want to work more?
Because they want to make more money.
And working more, not less, is something that many workers the world over voluntarily choose to do, for the same perfectly reasonable reason: They want to earn more money and get ahead. This hard work, moreover, is especially common in short bursts, when teams are trying to finish important projects, just the way it is at Foxconn.
And, in most places, this ambition and gumption is admired, not scorned.
Now, if Foxconn is forcing workers to work when they don't want to, yes, that's something to address. But at least according to the FLA's own findings, that doesn't appear to be the case.
Of the hundreds of Foxconn workers the FLA surveyed, here's what they found:
- 48% of workers thought their hours were reasonable
- 34% said they wanted to work more hours
- Only 18% felt they worked too much
82% of Foxconn's workers either think their hours are reasonable or want to work more hours.
But the FLA is saying that the "overwork" at Foxconn is a disgrace.
And there's one more important point here: It's not as is Foxconn workers are working hundred-hour weeks for months on end. The "overwork" the FLA is complaining about is defined as follows:
- During peak production periods, each factory exceeded 60 hours per week (regular plus overtime) at some point in the past year
- In a couple of peak months, about 40% of workers worked up to 70 hours a week and did not get a full 24 hour break at some point every week.
Okay, so in short bursts, the workers worked very long hours for 7 days a week.
Is there any successful worker anywhere in the world who hasn't done that?
Most ambitious people understand that, to be successful over the long haul, you have to work hard, especially in short bursts. And working hard occasionally means working 80-100 hour weeks, not just 60-70 hour weeks.
There are probably plenty of violations and serious employee issues in Apple's supply chain, but "long hours" really shouldn't be the primary complaint.
The vast majority of Foxconn's workers are either happy with how much they work or want to work more.
And yet the FLA is treating Foxconn and Apple as though they are whipping slaves.