Posts Tagged ‘Foxconn Workers’

U.S. corporate profits and Chinese sweatshops

September 17, 2013

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Costs and profits for Apple’s i-Phone

Defenders of sweatshop conditions in China say that low wages are the result of the impersonal workers of a hypothetical free market.  But a recent study (links are below) shows the real cause is the structure of the supply chain linking components producers such as Foxconn to customers such as Apple Computer.

When I hire a painter to paint my house, and he hires a helper, the free market works the way it ought to work because there is a rough equality of buying power.  But no such equality exists when individual workers are dealing not just with corporations, but with networks of corporations.

The corporate supply chain represents a concentration of power and a diffusion of responsibility.   When workers try to negotiate with Foxconn, managers can say that there is as limit to what they can do based on Apple’s requirements.   But Apple managers have no direct responsibility.  They can say there is a limit to what they can do based on their fiduciary responsibility to maximize return to stockholders.

You could say government should step in and set minimum wages and labor standards, but at the present time the governments of China and the USA are aligned with management, not workers.  Governments will not heed workers until they organize and create a base of power that governments must heed.  The workers of the world should unite.

Click on A Suicide Survivor: The Life of a Chinese Migrant Worker at Foxconn for a picture of working conditions at Foxconn by Jenny Chan.

Click on The politics of global production: Apple, Foxconn and China’s new working class for the text of the study by Jenny Chan, Ngai Punan and Mark Selden for their full paper.

Click on Apple et al create new working class for a duplicate copy of the study in Asia Times.  This is where I first came across the study.

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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.