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Exposed: The dark side of Foxconn

28 June 2013

Did you know that your IPhones are handmade by child laborers working 16 hours a day? Did you know that the 700 USD iPhone 5s are being produced at the cost of workers earning 9 USD a day?  Read on if you care…

About 150,000 iPhone 5s are made per day by Foxconn Technology Group which is about 1.7 iPhone’s per second (Lowensohn). However, this statistic only takes iPhones into account; Foxconn Company is also responsible for making products from iPhones and iPads to PlayStations for international brands like Apple, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Nintendo. Taiwanese-owned Foxconn is the world’s biggest electronics outsourcing manufacturer operating 20 plants and employing about 900,000 workers in China (SACOM). With this massive workforce, Foxconn takes about 40 percent of the global revenue of the entire electronics manufacturing industry which ranks Foxconn 43th among Global Fortune 500 Companies. (CNNMoney). However, the company received various criticisms such as child labour, unethical business practice, and violation of human’s rights. Although this successful company is able to efficiently provide plentiful of various technologies to the world, behind this company is a dystopia where workers are oppressed and dehumanized into mindless robots.

The uproar in the media about Foxconn is not about its massive workforce or its immense profits; instead, it is about young workers ranging from age 18 to 24, who have attempted to commit suicide in the recent years. This news brings the world to question the working condition inside Foxconn. The question is if Foxconn suicides are attributed to workers’ individual psychological issues or to the deteriorating and inhumane working conditions at Foxconn. Foxconn’s CEO, Terry Gou Tai Ming, responds to this incident,”I believe we are definitely not a sweatshop,” Gou tells the Wall Street Journal. “It is very difficult to manage a manufacturing team of more than 800,000 people. There are many things to do every day but we are confident we will be able to stabilize the situation very soon (Tsai). However, this did not happen.

Many undercover investigations have been conducted at Foxconn production facilities and workers have been interviewed. Results show that workers are struggling in an unacceptable management working atmosphere. A Foxconn teenage assembly line worker told China Labor Watch: “We are extremely tired, with tremendous pressure. We finish one step every seven seconds which requires us to concentrate and keep working and working. We work faster even than the machines. “Every shift [10 hours] we finish 4,000 Dell computers, all the while standing up. We can accomplish these assignments through collective effort but many of us feel worn out.” Lack of transparency between management and workers and absence of structural reform in the company’s management procedures are the two main flaws in the system. After the spate of suicides, Foxconn limits monthly overtime work to 80 hours, but it is still far higher than the legally allowed maximum of 36 hours. The workers cannot object to working overtime because they signed a “Voluntary Overtime Pledge”, which they do to add to their daily incomes.

For a weekly public radio show broadcast, This American Life, Mike Daisey, an American Monologist, went inside the Foxconn Company to interview workers to understand their experiences working for Foxconn. In this report he writes “I talk to an older man with leathery skin. His right hand is twisted up into a claw. It was crushed in a metal press at Foxconn. He says he didn’t receive any medical attention, and it healed this way. And then when he was too slow, they fired him”. Today he works at a woodworking plant. He says he likes it better. He says the people are nicer and the hours are more reasonable. He works about 70 hours a week.” (This video summarized the hazardous working conditions in Foxconn)

DSC_0005A father mourns the death of his Son
(An employee of Foxconn who committed suicide / image shown on an iphone 5)

In order to exploit its efficiency and revenue, Foxconn chooses to disregard its workers’ welfare and dignity. According to a China Labor Bulletin article, “the new basic wage for Foxconn production line workers in Shenzhen will be 1,800 Yuan (about 280 U.S Dollars) a month (about 9 Dollars per day), still only 300 Yuan (about 47 Dollars) above the new minimum wage, hardly a significant margin and certainly not enough for a decent living in one of the most expensive cities [Shenzhen] in China.” In addition, the workers are working under a deplorable atmosphere. According to SACOM, workers claim that they are not allowed to talk, laugh, or walk while at work. They are required to maintain and stay in certain body postures for hours of work and they will be punished for any sort of “misconduct”. Illogically, housing such a dreadful working environment Foxconn has reported recently to have a retention rate of more than 90 percent (Poeter). Foxconn describes this high percentage reflects how workers are eager to work in this factory and discredits SACOM for their accusation.

I believe a high retention rate does not necessary define the workers’ insight about their work. Perhaps in this competitive market factory work is left as their only choice; and although the wages are low, they depend on it to sustain their and their families’ lives. Being unemployed is scary, especially if you have to support a family. You do not know when you will get a job, and you would need to spend money on your research for jobs.  Therefore, it is reasonable that many workers at Foxconn chose to remain in their comfort zone and keep doing what they are doing without a sign for rebelling. Thus, we should be the voices for these people. We need to speak for these people because they deserve the rights to experience life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Foxconn has no right to overtake these people’s life and dehumanize them into mindless robots. These workers are the foundation for today’s growth in technology and our living standard. Therefore, in turn, we have an undeniable obligation to change and improve these workers’ lives.

However, the workers should also stand up for their own lives. Life is a gift. It is a gift to be able to experience love, joy, and freedom, and it is irreplaceable. Therefore, one should not tolerate the oppression that someone puts upon his or her life. The workers are the foundation of the factory; they have the power to make their voices heard and demand for a better working condition and higher wages. For example, recently an American businessman, Chip Starnes, was detained in his factory in China by his own workers for nearly a week. The workers request for higher salaries and some claim that they have not been paid for two months.  Mr. Starnes was then let out after he promised to give compensation to the workers. This example demonstrates the need for the courage from the workers to step out and display the determination to reclaim their own lives back.

This is definitely a global problem. This relates to more than a million innocent and clueless lives.  Therefore, as SACOM puts it, it is important to “reveal the actual working and living conditions of workers at Foxconn to garner public support for their struggle against their plight.” It is vital to pressure Foxconn to provide the basic living wage for their workers, lower the working hours, give each worker the freedom to have privacy and to display personal feelings and eliminate all unacceptable punishments. Human lives are far more valuable than profits. It is essential that today’s companies take morality into consideration within their business strategies. I understand that we all want to be efficacious and profitable in our businesses but to make our corporations grow at the consequences of the predicaments of our own workers or employees, Is it really worth it?

“If the firms that employ an increasing majority of the population are driven solely to satisfy the owner’s greed at the expense of working conditions, of the stability of the community and of the health of the environment, chances are that the quality of our lives will be worse than it is now.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Psychology Professor at Claremont Graduate University.

DSC_0001Chi Kit Cheong
Support Officer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Broadgate Financial Group.