Imagine a world where sixteen hour days and .70¢ hr is the prevailing wage. Now imagine the company you worked for earned $10B in profit in 2010 and by all accounts will make $30B in profit in 2011. Now finally put yourself in a work setting where the chairman referred to the employees as "animals" and managing them gave him "a headache". The aforementioned chairman also hired a zoo keeper to give a 'peptalk' to his senior managers.
The place I am referring to manufactures many of those high tech gadgets you probably have in your house. Companies like Apple, Sony, Nintendo and HP, among many others are produced by Foxconn.
On the surface it would appear as a college campus with dorms, tennis courts, and swimming pool.
That’s the number of employees Foxconn has as of 2010. You might not have ever heard of Foxconn however We’ll bet you’ve bought some of their stuff before. Yea. In one campus….ONE CAMPUS. Foxconn has 300,000 to 450,000 workers which are employed in Shenzhen China at the Longhua Science & Technology Park, a cramped, walled campus sometimes referred to as “Foxconn City”or “iPod City”. Covering about 1.16 square miles (3 square km).
But look closer at the "dorm rooms" and you will usually find 8 people living in one room.
In a 12-by-12 cement cube of a room, Daisey counts 15 beds, stacked like drawers up to the ceiling. Normal-sized Americans would not fit in them.Look closer still.
This week, international attention has focused on the enormous Foxconn factory in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, where 13 workers have tried to commit suicide in the first five months of this year, with 10 succeeding. Hours after Foxconn's chairman, Terry Gou, took reporters on a tour of the industrial complex Wednesday in an attempt to ease concerns, a 23-year-old man jumped to his death from a dormitory balcony. And on Thursday, a 25-year-old man who had worked at Foxconn for only two months slit his wrists in his dorm room, but survived.The working conditions are literally out of Upton Sinclairs "The Jungle". Where workers stand for 12 to 16 hours a day. 13 days of work before a day off. Factory gates manned by guards with automatic weapons.
Mike Daisey who does a one man stage show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" reports that:
Daisey visits other Shenzhen factories, posing as a potential customer. He discovers that most of the factory floors are vast rooms filled with 20,000-30,000 workers apiece. The rooms are quiet: There's no machinery, and there's no talking allowed. When labor costs so little, there's no reason to build anything other than by hand.
After 13 attempted deaths, 10 successful in iPod City, and promises to change conditions you might have thought some improvement would have been made since 2010.
By the spring of 2011 at least 14 workers had killed themselves so the Foxconn executives came up with a new idea to change the problems plaguing the factory cities in Chengdu or Shenzen. This new idea ... a no suicide pledge they forced workers to sign.
As far as working conditions the Centre for Research on Multinational Companies and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (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, the Observer reported.
- 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.
One employee was quoted that "She said they were made to work illegally long hours for a basic daily wage, as little as £5.20, and that workers were housed in dormitories of up to 24 people a room."
In Chengdu, working between 60 and 80 hours overtime a month was normal, with many breaching Apple's own code of conduct with the length of their shifts.
The investigation also found that employees claimed they were still not allowed to speak to each other on the factory floors.
Foxconn Spokesman Louis Woo: 'But we are working to change it.'
Surely after two years and multiple deaths we should be happy to report that conditions have improved at Foxconn.
Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn parent Hon Hai Precision Industry was reportedly entertaining Taipei Zoo director Chin Shih-chien onstage when he asked Chin "how animals should be managed" and instructed Hon Hai executives present to listen carefully to the zookeeper's advice.
"Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache," Gou said, according to the website run by Taiwan's China Times News Group.
Well they did implement the mandatory "no-suicide" rule since last year. And just to insure that there would be full compliance with this new mandate they have also installed new safety procedures that will ensure compliance. Nets!
Not to be deterred though the factory workers upped the ante. Just last week around 150 Chinese workers at Foxconn, the world's largest electronics manufacturer, threatened to commit suicide by leaping from their factory roof in protest at their working conditions.
The situation was resolved with no jumpers this time.
Usually around this time the discussion turns to the bottom line. Even with all the bad publicity Foxconn profits continue to make new highs
Apple has also not suffered any setbacks.
How much less money would Apple make if those 400,000+ manufacturing jobs were based in the USA. A billion less? Two? FIVE? So instead of making 14 billion last year they would have only made roughly 10 billion in profit. Or this year Instead of being on pace for 30 billion they would only make 25 billion in profit?? What kind of impact would almost a half a million manufacturing jobs have in the U.S. economy?What are the answers to this complicated problem? You have yet another American Co. exploiting a foreign workforce with subhuman conditions and wages. Union organizers are thrown in jail for attempting to change these horrible working conditions. Raising wages is not the "end-all" solution and would create its own set of problems. Are these people better off than working in the rice fields?
Somewhere in the middle lies a solution.
Update: This is not meant to spotlight Apple as the "evil". Foxconn produces many products for Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Dell and HP as well.