Posts Tagged ‘Chinese working conditions’

How bad off are Foxconn’s Chinese workers?

December 3, 2012

I’ve written several posts about Foxconn, the big subcontractor for Apple, Microsoft, Sony and other major electronics companies, which asks new hires to pledge that they won’t attempt suicide, allegedly because the work is so stressful.  If you have a cell phone, laptop computer, or electronic notepad, there’s a good chance you’re using a Foxconn-assembled product.

foxconn-mag-article-largeFollowing reports of labor unrest at Foxconn, James Fallows, who reports on China for the Atlantic Monthly, was allowed to visit.  What he saw was different from how I imagined the company.  Click on the links below to see photos of what he saw.

Inside Foxconn

Inside Foxconn 2 – Strolling

Inside Foxconn 3 – Some Dormitories

Inside Foxconn 4 – New Recruits, ‘Flying Tiger,’ CEO

Inside Foxconn 5 – Food

Back to Foxconn: Cameras, Clinic, Hoops

FoxConn1-thumb-102216I’m not sure what to think.  I recall how Americans such as Vice President Henry Wallace visited Siberia during World War Two, saw fake versions of Soviet labor camps and came back saying that life in the Gulag wasn’t so bad.   James Fallows is an experienced reporter, but his knowledge was limited to what he was told and what he was allowed to see on his visit.  He did not interview any Foxconn workers.

The workers were not starving and not in rags.   But their outward appearance says nothing about the stress of being waked up in the middle of the night, given a biscuit and a cup of tea and starting a 12-hour shift to fill an emergency order.  Nor about what it is like to be under video surveillance 24 hours a day, including in your own room.

I’m willing to accept Fallows’ verdict that Foxconn is not bad by Chinese standards and that the Chinese material standard of living has improved a lot during the past 10 or 20 years.  You should judge a nation not by where it is, but whether it is moving forward or backward, and, in terms of industrial development, China is moving forward.   China’s progress is a good thing for the United States, not a bad thing.  The better off the Chinese are, the better potential customers they are for American products.

Evidently there is a lot of labor unrest in China, but that does not prove there is no progress.  People don’t necessarily revolt just because they are poor and miserable.  If they did, humanity would have been in revolt for most of history.  People revolt when something to which they think they have a right is being taken away from them, or when hopes are aroused and then are not fulfilled.

foxconn_12332I think that what we have a right to expect of China and other low-wage nations is that they make a good-faith effort to obey their own laws and live up to their own standards.  I think that what we have a right to expect of American and other Western countries that operate in China is that they refrain from efforts to hold down wages and lobby the government against labor rights.

Click on Foxconn manufacturing workers complain of long hours, militant culture for a CNN report on the negative side of Foxconn.

Click on 3,000 to 4,000 Foxconn workers take part in protest for a report from China Business News.   Note that this would be fewer than 2 percent of the estimated 220,000 Foxconn employees at its Longhua campus in Shenzen province.

Click on Mr. China Comes to America for James Fallows’ optimistic view of the revival of manufacturing in the United States.

Click on Chinese workers asked for no-suicide pledge and  The debate over Asian sweatshops for earlier posts of mine.

Click on Sacon for the web log of Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, a Chinese pro-labor organization based in Hong Kong.

My opinions about the how employers treat Chinese workers are based on these and other articles.  I’d be interested in hearing from anyone with first-hand knowledge of China or Foxconn.

Mike Daisey made stuff up about Apple

March 19, 2012

Mike Daisey’s stage show about Apple Computer, to which I referred in a previous post, contained a lot of stuff that he just made up.  Foxconn and other components suppliers in China apparently don’t employ child labor on a large scale, as he claimed, though other assertions about labor conditions are confirmed by independent sources.  Some stories he told about encounters with Chinese workers apparently were invented.

Mike Daisey

All this came to light after the WBEZ radio in Chicago, the producers of This American Life, had second thoughts about a program they aired on Mike Daisey and distributed over Public Radio. They did their own investigation and issued a retraction.  Then they did a whole new program about their mistake.

Click on Retracting “Mr. Daisey and The Apple Factory” for This American Life’s press release.

Click on Retraction | This American Life for a link to an audio of WBEZ’s retraction program.

Click on Retraction PDF | This American Life for a transcript of WBEZ’s retraction program.

Click on Mike Daisey Statement on TAL for Daisey’s response.

Click on Apple’s iPad and the Human Costs for Workers in China for a factual account of Apple’s Chinese suppliers.

I give WBEZ credit.  The managers took corrective action as soon as they realized there was a problem.  They didn’t fire the whistleblower or try to cover up.    This is a level of integrity which ought to be routine in large organizations, but isn’t.

Mike Daisey is not a reporter, but what he did is something that reporters often are tempted to do.  They have a good news story, and reach for an extra embellishment that would make it an even better story, which discredits the whole thing.

The other thing to remember is that the problem isn’t just Apple Computer, but the whole system of outsourcing to China.  If this controversy results in an improvement in Apple’s labor practices, this will be good.  But if it merely results in shifting of business from Apple to other companies that are no better or possibly worse, nothing will be gained.

[Added 3/20/12]  Click on The Sad and Infuriating Mike Daisey Case for thoughts of James Fallows, formerly China correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly.

Chinese workers asked for no-suicide pledge

May 11, 2011

Foxconn, headquartered in Taiwan, is reported by Wikipedia to be the world’s largest manufacturer of electronic components, and the largest private employer in China.  It employs an estimated 1 million Chinese workers, including 300,000 to 450,000 at its walled factory complex in Shenzen province.  It is a subcontractor for Apple, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Microsoft, Japan’s Nintendo and Sony, Korea’s Samsung and Finland’s Nokia.

Recently Foxconn has had so many suicides by stressed-out  Chinese employees that it requires new hires to sign a no-suicide pledge.  As England’s Daily Mail reported:

Factories making sought-after Apple iPads and iPhones in China are forcing staff to sign pledges not to commit suicide, an investigation has revealed.

At least 14 workers at Foxconn factories in China have killed themselves in the last 16 months as a result of horrendous working conditions.

Many more are believed to have either survived attempts or been stopped before trying at the Apple supplier’s plants in Chengdu or Shenzen.

After a spate of suicides last year, managers at the factories ordered new staff to sign pledges that they would not attempt to kill themselves, according to researchers.

And they were made to promise that if they did, their families would only seek the legal minimum in damages.

An investigation of the 500,000 workers by the Centre for Research on Multinational Companies and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (Sacom) found appalling conditions in the factories.

They claimed that:

# Excessive overtime was rife, despite a legal limit of 36 hours a month. One payslip showed a worker did 98 hours of overtime in one month … .

# During peak periods of demand for the iPad, workers were made to take only one day off in 13.

# Badly performing workers were humiliated in front of colleagues.

# Workers are banned from talking and are made to stand up for their 12-hour shifts. … …

Foxconn admits that it breaks overtime laws, but claims all the overtime is voluntary.

Some officials within the company even accused workers of committing suicide to secure large compensation payments for their families.

Anti-suicide nets were put up around the dormitory buildings on the advice of psychologists.

via  Mail Online.

I suppose that, from the standpoint of management, things could be worse.  The Chinese workers could be attempting to form labor unions.

(more…)


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