Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans in San Francisco have protested against the long hours and bad conditions at the Foxconn factory in southern China, where the Apple iPad is manufactured. Photo report by David Bacon
They lined up in front of Apple's flagship store in San Francisco, holding signs with the names of workers at the factory who have committed suicide because of the conditions.
Those conditions include 80 hours of overtime a month, according to the Chinese media. Chinese law limits overtime to 36 hours per month. No one is allowed to talk on the production line, and workers complain of constant high line speed and speedup. Most workers live in huge dormitories, where often 12 people share a room.
The suicides include a man who jumped from a dormitory. He'd worked there for two years. Another man, recently hired, slit his wrists and was taken to a hospital. A woman hanged herself in the bathroom, and a man drowned in a company swimming pool. The latest person committed suicide right after Foxconn's head, Terry Guo, had visited the factory and taken journalists on a tour.
Apple Corporation was embarrassed by the disclosure of the conditions for the people who make iPhones, iPods and iPads. The company, which has pushed for extra production of the newly unveiled iPad, said it would compensate workers by increasing the money it was paying Foxconn from 2.3% to 3% of the final price it charges for an iPad. That's the equivalent of the amount Apple spends for the device's aluminium back.
The protest and memorial was organised by San Francisco's Chinese Progressive Association.
From Silicon Valley to Shenzhen is a new book, to be published later this year, about the electronics contract manufacturing industry, by German sociologist Boy Leuthje. The following are excerpts from the book's description of Foxconn:
The hallmark of industrial mass work in Chinese contract manufacturing is the massive employment of young, mostly women workers from rural areas ... Electronics contract manufacturing combines wage labour from poor and undeveloped areas with highly modern work and living environments in world market factories.
In 2008, the company [Foxconn] reported 700.000 workers all over China, 320.000 of them alone in the giant Shenzhen Longhua facility ("Foxconn City"), another 80.000 in other facilities in Shenzhen and the remainder in about half a dozen newly built industrial parks in other parts of China, such as Kunshan, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Yantai and Wuhan.
Foxconn publicly announced in 2008 that it would reduce its workforce of 700,000 in China by 15%,. In the Shenzhen Longhua facility 60.000 workers were laid off in late 2008 and early 2009 or did not return from their home villages after the Chinese New Year.
Even relatively good benefits in housing, food and recreation do not significantly stabilize the workforce. In some major contract manufacturing plants, tragic incidents have highlighted the often-desperate situation of individual workers, who seek to escape the permanent pressure of management control and workplace stress ... In 2006, the situation in Foxconn's giant industrial park in Shenzhen also gave rise to the first major public debate in China about the working conditions at contract manufacturers. This subsequently caused significant changes in labor relations.
A report in a British tabloid exposed the working conditions in the production of Apple's I-Pod music player at Foxconn. Chinese media then ran numerous stories about ultra-low wages and extremely long working hours in Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and other locations around the country. The company's extensive control system could not prevent workers from reporting to Chinese media that violation of labour laws was a common practice at Foxconn.
[The company's attitude] reflects the increasing difficulty multinational contract manufacturers have in controlling the social and political costs of their despotic low-wage regime.
Most recently, the tragic series of suicides among young migrant workers in the same factory in early 2010 provoked unprecedented media publicity in China and internationally. In China, the debate not only focussed on the fate of migrant workers, but also raised profound questions about the need to change the model of economic development, based on large-scale use of rural low-wage labor for export production.
The tragic events in Foxconn City in 2010 underline the failure of industry-proclaimed codes of conduct and their "monitoring" to achieve socially responsible working conditions in this and other contract manufacturing factories ... In China, a group of nine Chinese sociologists from leading universities took the unusual step of issuing a collective appeal. In their opinion, the crisis at Foxconn reveals deep problems in China's current model of economic development. They challenge the factory regime at Foxconn, and call on the Chinese national and local government and the concerned enterprises to allow migrant workers to become "true citizens of the enterprise".
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30 June 2010