Posts Tagged ‘Foxconn’

The passing scene: Links 11/25/13

November 25, 2013

Switzerland votes against a cap on executive pay by The Guardian.

Voters in Switzerland voted, by a 2 to 1 ratio, to reject a proposed law that would have limited executive pay in a corporation to 12 times that of the lowest-paid employee.

Foxconn invests $40M in Pennsylvania to tap research, talent by Michael Kan for Computerworld.

China-based Foxconn, the world’s largest manufacturing employer, plans operations in the United States.   Presumably, there won’t be nets around the buildings to catch suicidal employees.

Toxic Lakes From Tar-Sands Projects Planned for Alberta by Jeremy Van Loon for Bloomberg News.

Some day the bitumen in Alberta will be exhausted, but the toxic wastes in artificial lakes will be there indefinitely.

 

News from Asia: Links & comments 10/14/13

October 13, 2013

World Action Now on Fukushima by Harvey Wasserman for Common Dreams

Radioactive Bluefin Tuna Caught Off the California Coast by Ann Werner for the Malibu Sharkbytes blog.  Hat tip to Mike Connelly for both these links.

The ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the 2011 earthquake is still a danger not just to Japan and neighboring countries, but to the world.  The first link is to a video by nuclear journalist Harvey Wasserman, explaining the danger involved in removing damaged nuclear fuel rods.  It is like lifting 660-pound cigarettes from a crumpled pack, and hoping not to leak any tobacco.

But the rods can’t be left in place because the plant continues to leak radioactive water.  Bluefin tuna caught off California have traces of radioactive cesium, an element that does not occur in nature but only as part of nuclear reactions.  Cesium, however, is excreted from the body.  Much more dangerous is radioactive strontium, also present in the fuel rods, which accumulates in the bones.

Wasserman is circulating an on-line petition calling for the UN International Atomic Energy Agency to take over removal of the spent fuel rods.

Report: Chinese University Students Forced to Manufacture Playstation 4 in Foxconn plant by Eric Kain for Forbes.   Hat tip to “B Psycho” of Pyschopolitik.

Report: Chinese students forced to make PS4 for Foxconn by Samit Sarkar for Polygon.

In many Communist countries, high school and college students were required to put in compulsory labor on harvests and other necessary tasks.  Compulsory labor evidently is still a part of China’s Communist capitalism.

A Chinese newspaper reported that more than 1,000 students at Xi’an Technological University were required to put in two months work for Foxconn, the giant Chinese manufacturer of electronics components, as a condition to graduate.  It was called an internship, although students said they were not employed in their fields of study.  They were paid $262 a month, the same as other workers.

As “B Psycho” said, if there is a labor shortage, why not offer higher wages?

Chiang Mai locals shocked by ‘rude’ Chinese tourists by Amy Li for the South China Morning Post.

Manners lost in translation by the Bangkok Post.  Hat tip to Jack Clontz for both these links.

Millions of rich Chinese tourists visit Thailand each year, giving a boost to the country’s economy.  But the tourists aren’t always culturally sensitive, as indicated by these two newspaper articles about the behavior of Chinese tourists in Chiang Mai, a northern Thai city that was the scene of a popular Chinese movie comedy, “Lost in Thailand.”

Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy? by Christine Gross-Loh for the Atlantic.  Hat tip to Jack Clontz.

Prof. Michael Pruett’s course in Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory is the third most popular undergraduate course at Harvard University, behind only Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science.

The classical Chinese philosophers teach the importance of good habits, self-awareness and the little things of life, and the unities of head and heart and of mind and body.  Some students say these teachings changed their lives.

The previous articles show that the Chinese don’t necessarily live up to the best values of their culture and traditions.  Then again, you could say the same of us Americans.

U.S. corporate profits and Chinese sweatshops

September 17, 2013

chart290813a
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chart290813b

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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Foxconn: the face of world manufacturing

April 8, 2013

Foxconn, the giant Chinese manufacturing company, is expanding worldwide, not only into poorer regions of China but also into Brazil, India, Mexico, Malaysia, central Europe and, in the not-too-distant future, the United States.   With 1.4 million workers in China alone, it is the world’s second largest employer, behind Walmart.

Foxconn suicide nets

Foxconn suicide nets (Bloomberg News)

The company, whose headquarters are in Taiwan and largest operations are in China, is famous for asking its stressed-out workers to sign pledges to not commit suicide and for putting up suicide nets to catch workers jump out of the windows of its tall dormitories.

Ross Perlin, writing in the current issue of Dissent magazine, says there are good reasons for this.   Work schedules of 12 hours a day and 50 hours a week are common, he said, with up to 100 hours a week during peak production.  He said that wages average $1 to $2 an hour.

Although the company continues to be plagued by wildcat strikes and suicide threats, working conditions have improved slightly, as a result of audits by Apple Computer, a major customer, and a tight labor market in China, Perlin wrote.

   But there is a limit to possible improvement.  He quoted an analysis that said only 1.8 percent of the price of an iPhone goes to manufacturers in China, while Apple gets 58.5 percent and the rest goes to manufacturers of high-end components.  He didn’t quote the source of these figures, and I suspect they are exaggerated, but I agree with his overall point.  Profit margins of companies such as Foxconn and other Chinese suppliers are razor-thin, and they can succeed only by operating on a huge scale while keeping costs, including wages, to a minimum.

Perlin said that Foxconn and Apple symbolize the long-standing relationship between the United States and the economies of eastern Asia, including Japan and South Korea as well as China.

[It is based on] a series of dyads: American consumption and Asian labor, American innovation and Asian manufacturing, American debt and Asian savings, American power and Asian acquiescence. In its latest form—the co-evolution of Silicon Valley and China’s Special Economic Zones, particularly in information technology and alternative energy—it can be summed up in the words, engraved on nearly every Apple product: “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China.”

via Dissent Magazine.

chinese-iphone-5-production-factoryThis economic relationship has existed for a long time, but it can’t go on forever.  It depends on us Americans being relatively rich, and over time it makes us relatively poorer.

There are at least two ways it can come to an end.  One is that the United States government stands up for U.S. workers and does what the Japanese, South Korean, Chinese and many other governments do, which is to allow access to the nation’s market only on condition that the company make a positive contribution to the nation’s productivity.  Currently the U.S. government is on the opposite course.   From Reagan through Clinton to Obama, successive administrations have sought to lock the United States into international trade treaties precisely intended to prevent member governments from asserting national interests against global corporations.

The most likely ending is that we Americans eventually cease to be able to earn enough or borrow enough to be a worthwhile market for Chinese goods.  If and when that happens, the question becomes whether the USA will take down the economies of eastern Asia with us.  Maybe by that time they will have developed a middle class large enough to be a market for their own goods, after having moved their manufacturing operations to Africa or some other poorer part of the world.   Or maybe they or we will have found a better path, in a way I can’t presently imagine.

Click on Chinese Workers Foxconned for Ross Perlin’s full article in Dissent Magazine, which has other articles on China in the Spring 2013 issue.

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.

Siri, sweatshops and suicide

January 17, 2012

[Added 3/19/12.  Mike Daisey is not a reliable source of information about Apple Computer and its Chinese suppliers.  Click on Retracting “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” to understand why.]

Apple Computer’s new iPhone 4S has an artificial intelligence program called Siri that responds to the spoken word.  If you asked Siri Software where it was manufactured, you’d get an answer something like this.

Siri, where do you come from?

I, Siri, was designed by Apple in California.

Where were you manufactured?

I’m not allowed to say.

Why?

Good question.  Anything else I can do for you?

Actually there is no mystery.  Apple’s iPhone is manufactured in Shenzen, China, by Foxconn, in a huge complex employing 430,000 people, surrounded by huge nets to prevent employees from committing suicide by jumping off buildings.  Foxconn employs 1 million people worldwide, and makes about a third of the components used by Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and other electronics companies.

Shenzen was a small fishing village three decades ago when Deng Xiaoping designated it a special economic zone, where corporate enterprise would enjoy free rein.  Today it is a city of 14 million people, larger than New York City.

Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey, a stage performer, visited Foxconn last year.  He stood outside the factory gate and talked to workers, and then gained admittance by posing as a would-be purchaser of Foxconn products.  He talked to a young woman who turned out to be 13 years old.  She said she had many friends age 12, 13 and 14.  Child labor is illegal in China, but according to Daisey she said Foxconn doesn’t check ages, and makes sure that older workers are on duty whenever auditors come.

He saw factory floors with 20,000 to 30,000 workers in a single space.  They worked in absolute silence.  Not only was there no talking, there was no machinery noise because there was no machinery.  Everything was done by hand, including manipulation of components thinner than a single human hair.

Shifts were supposedly 12 hours a day, but he said workers told him 16-hour days were common when there was a rush order.  That is without a lavatory break, a coffee break or any other kind of break.  While Daisey was there in 2010, a Foxconn worker died from exhaustion working 34 hours without a break.  Everybody in the plant is under video surveillance on the factory floor, in the hallways and cafeterias and in their 12-by-12-foot dorm cubicles in which 12 to 15 bunks are stacked.

He saw workers in their mid-20s whose hands were disintegrated from making the same repetitive motion hundreds and hundreds of thousands of time—like carpal tunnel syndrome, but orders of magnitude worse.  This could easily be fixed by rotating the job assignments each month, but this is not done.

Workers who are injured in industrial accidents receive no compensation.  He said he talked to a man whose hand was crushed in a machine.  The man was fortunate enough to find a job in a woodworking shop, where the employers are friendly and he only has to work a 70-hour week.

Steve Jobs is regarded as a kind of secular saint, but it was his decision that the wondrous new products he designed would be made not by Americans, but by stressed-out, low-paid workers in a company town.  Henry Ford paid Ford Motor Co. workers enough to afford to buy Ford cars.  None of the Foxconn workers in Shenzen can afford an iPhone or any of the other technological marvels they put together.  Of course Steve Jobs was no worse than Bill Gates, the great philanthropist, or any of the other electronics CEOs who use Third World sweatshop labor.

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