Independent investigators have uncovered workplace abuses in a "full-body-scan" audit of three Foxconn factories in China that pump out coveted Apple (IW 500/14) gadgets.

Forced overtime led to workweeks breaking the limit of 76 hours set by Chinese law, and employees sometimes worked more than seven days straight without a required 24-hour break, the Fair Labor Association said.

"Overtime. Overtime. ... That's the key issue to address," FLA president Auret van Heerden said late Thursday, while discussing the findings in an interview on ABC's "Nightline."

"Secondly, the exclusion of workers from -- or the failure to integrate workers into -- all of the committee processes."

Employees should have more involvement with union, health and safety committees, according to van Heerden, who put Foxconn factories on an overall par with modern manufacturing plants elsewhere in the world.

The FLA said it gave Apple's largest supplier "the equivalent of a full-body scan through 3,000 staff hours investigating three of its factories and surveying more than 35,000 workers."

"Apple and its supplier Foxconn have agreed to our prescriptions, and we will verify progress and report publicly," it said.

Along with excessive overtime and not always compensating workers properly for extra hours, the nearly month-long investigation uncovered health and safety risks and "crucial communication gaps."

Foxconn has pledged to bring factory conditions into full compliance with Chinese law and FLA standards regarding working hours by July of next year, according to the report.

"If implemented, these commitments will significantly improve the lives of more than 1.2 million Foxconn employees and set a new standard for Chinese factories," van Heerden said.

Cook Visits China

The report was released as Apple CEO Tim Cook paid a visit to China, where state media said Vice Premier Li Keqiang, tipped to be country's next leader, had told him foreign firms should do more to protect workers.

International labor-watchdog groups have said workers in Chinese plants run by major Apple supplier Foxconn of Taiwan are poorly treated, and have blamed a string of apparent suicides on factory conditions.

Li, who is likely to be China's next premier, met the new Apple chief executive on his visit to Beijing on Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Li told Cook that multinational companies should "pay more attention to caring for workers," the report said.

Cook on Wednesday visited a Foxconn plant in China's central city of Zhengzhou, where he viewed the production line, Apple said.

"China is very important to us, and we look forward to even greater investment and growth here," the company said. It declined to comment on meetings held with officials, including Beijing's mayor.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is wildly popular in China, where its iPhone and iPad are coveted by wealthy consumers.

The FLA Will Inspect Two Other Apple Suppliers

Apple agreed in January to allow inspections by the FLA, following reports that employees were overworked and underpaid at Foxconn factories in China.

Besides Foxconn plants, the FLA teams will inspect factories owned by two other Taiwan-owned manufacturers -- Quanta and Pegatron -- which also make Apple products.

"When completed, the FLA's assessment will cover facilities where more than 90% of Apple products are assembled," Apple said earlier this year.

Apple's stock price slid slightly after release of the report, inching down to $607 in after-hours trading that followed close of the market in New York.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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