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Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Beijing tells iPod contractor Hongfujin to allow workers to set up trade union

AP , SHANGHAI

A Chinese supplier of Apple Computer Inc's iPod embroiled in a dispute over its labor policies has been told to let its more than 200,000 workers set up a trade union, reports said yesterday.

Hongfujin Precision Industry Co (鴻富錦精密工業) is on a list of companies in Shenzhen that have been ordered to set up such a union, which would be affiliated to the government's All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

China does not allow independent labor organizing, but in recent years it has been pushing foreign-invested companies to allow the state-sanctioned labor groups. Such groups are not industrywide, but represent workers in a single company or sales outlet. They traditionally have been allied with management.

Many foreign companies have already allowed such unions to be set up in their China operations.

An operator at the local ACTFU branch in Shenzhen who answered the phone yesterday said all staff authorized to speak to media were out of the office.

Earlier this week, amid a wave of bad publicity Apple Computer Inc announced it was trying to resolve a controversy over a defamation lawsuit filed in a Shenzhen court by Hongfujin against two journalists who wrote a story criticizing treatment of workers on its iPod assembly lines.

Token damage

Local and international media groups criticized Hongfujin's demand for 30 million yuan (US$3.8 million) in damages, as well as the local court's agreement to freeze the personal assets of the two journalists, reporter Wang You (王佑) and editor Weng Bao (翁寶) of China Business News.

The paper has said it fully supports Wang and Weng and stands by their reporting.

On Thursday, Hongfujin -- a subsidiary of Taiwanese firm Foxconn Technology Holdings (鴻準精 密) -- reduced its demand for damages to a token 1 yuan (US$0.12), saying it was obliged to file the lawsuit to defend its reputation. It also said it retracted its request for freezing the journalists' assets.

Responding to the allegations, Cupertino, California-based Apple promised to immediately investigate conditions at the factory.

It issued a report earlier this month saying that it found some violations of its stringent code of conduct but no serious labor abuses. It pledged to immediately redress some problems with overtime, employee accommodations and administrative issues.

Small city

The factory, which also supplies electronics components and accessories to other major firms such as Dell Inc and Intel Corp, is a small city in its own right, with clinics, recreational facilities, buses and 13 restaurants serving its 200,000 workers, Apple's report said.

The report discounted allegations of forced overtime, noting that a chief complaint among workers was a shortage of overtime during slack periods.

The Xinhua report said the ACFTU initially requested the factory set up a union in late 2004, adding that the company recently was reminded to comply before the end of this year.

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