A soon-to-be-released study will reveal that Taiwan-based Foxconn, mega-manufacturer of a broad range of electronics from the iPhone to the Wii, engages in widespread employee abuse, harsh punishment, illegal labor practices, and unsafe working conditions. The Beijing-based Global Times reported Friday that the study was …
Are we surprised?
That was the picture in Britain around several hundred years ago. The sole difference was that instead of manufacturing electronics the workers were doing slave labour in the textile industry. Similarly to today's China the owners had the full support of the government with the army used against any workers that took a dislike against the working conditions and practices.
Nothing surprising - it is capitalism "as we know it" and this is exactly why "our" capitalists are moving their manufacturing there.
History will take its due course and things will fix themselves. While I would like to take grand stands and refuse to buy their kit as history has shown that does not help it. It takes time and natural progression of the society for this to get sorted. Things happen faster than in early industrialised Britain so give or take 20-40 years the China we know today will be no more.
While you are right in that UK/US had the same thing,
I fear that waiting for it to sort itself out isn't the best answer. Outright boycott and grandstanding aren't the answer as you rightly mention, but the socialism and unionizing that arose last time around won't be the answer for the portions of Foxxconn that are in Communist China.
It's really easy to simply ignore it, or wrap it up into the usual pointless Apple/Anti-Apple flames, but that simply sidelines it. One possible partial solution is indeed public pressure. Remember Nike and the backlash of their third world factories using child labor?
A less altruistic leverage, I suppose, is to make it an advertising point. although this works more for small shops and with software where manufacturing is low. That is, "Made locally, so there's no language barrier/lead/bad karma!" may put pressure to clean up offshore factories to remove the FUD. Perhaps, even, we can use jingoism for good purposes and not just bad ones.
Finally, I suppose, would be a cultural shift is required in the developing countries. Nothing so extreme as an armed revolution, but enlightenment-era concepts and beliefs are necessary (although not sufficient).
Then again, it's easy for me to say these things without actually doing anything about it.
Current technology can make a major difference...
@"Things happen faster than in early industrialised Britain so give or take 20-40 years the China we know today will be no more."
Not only the rate of change but also the difference in current technology these days compared with 200 years ago will also make a major difference. For example, increasingly more of the population in very industrialised countries has an ability to video events as they occur and then spread these videos online to show everyone what is happening. This technology is rapidly spreading worldwide. Imagine for example if 200 years ago the world was shown the dangerous horrific working conditions in British mills or shown the workers horrific living conditions in Dickensian Britain. Then contrast that with videos of the opulent lifestyles of the rich overlords at that same time. It would have created such social anger that there would have been a full scale revolution against the rich overlords. The rich overlords would have had no choice but to help improve the conditions of the working classes.
This means the answer is that all workers worldwide need to be encouraged to use technology to leak what is going on. Leak how they are treated. Leak how bullying bosses behave. The more society sees collectively what is going on the more society as a whole can stand together to move against this unfair behaviour. The people in power will attempt to use lawyers and even law changes to stop the leaks, but if the leaks are so extensive they cannot hold back the leaks about how they behave, then it will create a social feedback pressure against the unfair treatment of others.
For example look at how society rightly reacts to Internet videos of at times frankly outright Psychopathic people committing intentional cruelty to animals. Society is creating a natural pressure against this kind of behaviour. Its not that its no longer accepted, its that now it less likely to be hidden. Technology is helping to expose what is happening.
We can't stop the rich and powerful getting and creating Orwellian technology as too few see the dangers of it only in the hands of the powerful few, but ironically perhaps the answer is with everyone leaking videos we can all help create a strong enough social pressure against such unfair behaviour to reduce so much unfairness in the world.
I think we are only just starting to see the effects of such increasingly widespread new technology. At first its catching out the most extreme people in society, the psychopaths and the most extreme aggressive Narcissists. But as technology becomes ever more pervasive, its going to catching out and highlight ever more subtle unfair behaviour. For example imagine in say just a decade from now, that most people were using video life logging during their entire working day (it could happen), then they would catch so much unfairness and wrong behaviour its going to get highlighted in society. That would even catch out and expose the passive aggressive Narcissists at work who usually use their sulking negative mind games to bully and undermine people.
So I really do think we are only just starting to see the good effects of how ever better technology used collectively has the power to transform society, because it has the power to highlight and so reduce how people are being treated badly by others. The people behaving badly won't be able to keep getting away with how they are behaving, because technology will increasingly be recording evidence against them.
Should we be expected to pay more?
This is what we get when we expect ever cheaper merchandise.
Manufactured goods have to be constructed and the savings are always made by exploiting cheep labour in unregulated markets.
Until we are prepared to pay a decent living wage and insist on western working environments for the people that provide us with the luxuries we expect and by consequence pay a realistic price for the things we consume, then we have no place criticising the barbarity that is needed to enforce low labour costs.
I wouldn't describe Apple products as "cheap"
"Overpriced", yes - but not "cheap".
Ultimately, for what is charged for, say, an iPad, you could easily afford to build that product locally - with plenty of change left over. However, that would mean less profit for shareholders, so it doesn't happen.
>you could easily afford to build that product locally
Really? They put in 6 12 hour shifts a week for an average salary under $900 a month including overtime. In EU terms that's the work of 2 people for the 1/3 of the salary of a single one, even being conservative with on-costs - probably more like 1/4.
I'm sure there's a few folk who'd happily part with a grand or more for iPads, but not 10 million.
This is what happens when an economy is based around middle men...
We pay enough. But it doesn't go to the right people. To support the vast armies of middle management and consultants we have, the cost of producing actual goods has to tend towards zero.
So because the iPad is extortionately expensive you appear to think that dismisses my whole argument.
Maybe if you had read the article you will see that other companies were mentioned, not just Apple.
Also if you had read my post properly you would see that it doesn't just apply to electrical goods but all products manufactured by low paid and exploited workers.
profit for shareholders?
Last time I looked, Apple doesn't pay a dividend. So how are they getting more money? If they play the horses right ( sorry stock) they can make money but other wise this does not affect the shareholders income. It is people like Steve Jobs who makes the money in the form of bonus'.
Arbeit macht frei!
Or at least cheap.
Big Brother because some people in the Party and/or the Gov are sure to be enablers.
How can this be?
After all, Steve Jobs and the rest of the high-tech royalty's sh*t doesn't stink. Or so Apple keeps telling us.
It is not sh*t it is money
There is a russian proverb: "Dengi ne pahnut" which translates literally as "Money does not smell".
Did you read the article?
... HP and Dell were also mentioned. This is symptomatic of the industry as a whole.
re AC 1839
Little unfair to pick on Apple in this instance. As the article mentions, Foxconn manufacture for a bunch of other high-profile companies, like Dell, Sony, Nintendo...
(I know you refer to 'other companies', but Apple's mentioned twice directly, and no-one else)
It may be early Monday, but I need a pint to wash out the taste of defending Steve Jobs!
It's been known since antiquity ...
... that money doesn't smell.
"Pecuniam non olet", Roman emperor Vespasian said when asked if taxing the use of public toilets wasn't smelly business.
He at least managed to restore the health of Rome's public finances after Nero had, well, "overstretched" them a bit, throwing fiery parties.
Please add to this thread, I wonder how many other european languages beyond Russian and German have adopted the saying !
Pecuniam non olet
It also exist in french : "L'argent n'a pas d'odeur"
Take a million people
I don't want to give Foxconn a total pass here because they could do better.
But take a random sample of one million of the world's population and follow them for a year. Somewhere between ten and twenty thousand of them will die in that time. Some of them will be killed by somebody else, some will take their own lives, most will die of natural causes or accident. Some of the million will do evil things. Some will be foolish and thoughtless. Some will find love, start a family, have children.
Foxconn has over a million employees. It's practically a nation unto itself. It has one factory complex with nearly a half a million people. In addition to the ordinary needs of an employer it's providing many of the infrastructure needs typically provided by governments: utilities, transportation, keeping the public order and so on.
They can do better. They must do better. But they're not scouring the countryside with press gangs rounding up villagers to work in their technology mines. The people flock to them because it's the best opportunity they have to earn some money to send home to their families, who really have it rough.
Does that justify treating its staff badly?
Certainly not, however...
Certainly doesn't justify it and I agree they could do a lot, lot better but as the top poster said, you have a company that has sprung from nowhere in x number of years to running a country sized infrastructure inside a country that, well let's face itm doesn't have a great track record on human rights. That's not a pop at China or Chinese people, but most people living and working in China today have only known the current, strict communist regime that was setup in the early 1950s.
These are not public servants or officials, they are business people with business ethics. The first thing is to keep badgering them into thinking more like public officials and consider their ethics, not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
Hit em in the pocket!
That doesn't justify their treatment to the workers Mikel.
That place is like a prison and the only escape these people have is to live on the streets with their families or kill themselves and have their families get a small income from that
Microsoft, Apple and Nintendo need to tell them it isn't acceptable to use slave labour and find another place to get their products made.
Only when Foxconn is losing money will they actually bother to change their work practices
A very fine line m'laddo
Those sort of worker abuses can carry up to an execution as punishment for management over there. Sure, the Chinese Govt. is turning a blind eye now 'cause it suits them to, but next time they get /really/ pissed off with Taiwan they have a perfectly legal process to execute a bunch of Tw nationals and nationalise their assets.
Roll on the day.
Re: A very fine line
Hmm, there's quite probably a hidden agenda in there already.
Last I heard, the "Global Times" was renowned for not printing anything that hadn't been effectively dictated to them by the Chinese Government and certainly nothing that hadn't got their seal of approval. Its reputation makes Fox News appear impartial by comparison.
For a handy illustration look at their coverage of a recent Nobel Prize award. Stony "nothing happened today" silence followed by a series of fulminant and outraged articles, once it became bleedin' obvious to even the most casual observer that they were deliberately avoiding the subject and they couldn't get away with keeping schtum any longer.
I suspect that the question that should really be being asked here is: "Why does the Chinese government want to stick the boot into Foxconn?"
I'm depressed now. I feel that I'm somehow being part of it as I buy these gadgets.
Oh well, I'm sure similar fate awaits me in the next life.
Foxconn not alone in Chinese worker abuse
Foxconn gained notoriety with respect to working conditions that allegedly drove some workers to kill themselves. They are the poster company for this abuse but many companies treat their workers in ways that are considered illegal in the West.
It should be borne in mind that standards are minimal in China. For example, construction workers in the West wear steel-capped toed boots whereas 'flip-flops' or sandals are common in other countries including China.
Equally, child labour is common in many developing countries, although some - including VietNam - bans it through legislation. Education is not mandatory in many countries and is frequently charged for so poor families (a) can't afford education fees (b) parents take otherwise idle children to work where they can earn pittances in wages.
Many Western countries manufacture in China, and elsewhere because labour laws permit activities prohibited in Western countries including what we consider abuse/harsh treatment and unsafe working conditions.
The chemicals used in the assembly of Apple, and others, products, as well as the cleaning solvents, are causing health concerns such as bleeding from the nose and other respiratory effects. Ventilation, lighting and machine tool safety are all problematic when measured against Western standards.
The conundrum is that the West couldn't afford to make these products at an 'affordable' price although often the manufacturing cost differentials are simply used to make usurious profits for the importers.
Living next to China, and making frequent trips there, lets me see just how much profits are when comparing Chinese retail prices to European or Canadian retail prices.
Next time you buy the latest electronic equipment remember that others suffered in bringing it to you and the company whose logo appears on the item is making a killing on profit, and not employing either you or your neighbours in the process.
So boycott them already.
And make sure Chinese and other third world workers do NOT get employed by any Western multinationals or by suppliers for Western companies. Why would they want to, after all, if they are so badly treated?
Obviously, Chinese companies working only for the internal Chinese market will pay their Chinese employees living wages and treat them fairly. No crappy profiteering there.
p.s. In case you don't get it, I think Foxconn is a shit and I hope they get hung out to dry on this. But cutting off all Chinese manufacturers is not doing the Chinese workforce any favors, far from. We get upset when we get lead paint on toys, Chinese babies get melamined milk and will keep on getting that till the Chinese government decides to step in because it hurts exports.
Wage differentials will remain and that is normal at this point of China's development, but there is _no_ reason Foxconn's Dickensian behavior should be tolerated. They should keep on getting pressured, like it happens in the clothing manufacturers for Western brands.
I'd much rather pay more...
...when I can find non Chinese goods.
Two problems with that
1) Your not going to manage that. e.g. youll never be able to buy a (non POD) book again.
2) Most Chinese factories are not like that.
When is the key word
I would prefer to buy made in the USA or at least a western nation with some sort of labor laws and I am willing to pay more.
Just can't find it in the stores. Wal mart used to be big on made in the USA until the kids took over.
This depresses me.
I effectively fund such behavior with my wallet. And given the number of devices containing foxconn parts, I will probably continue supporting it. So much for moral standards.
I think I'll avoid anything foxconn-branded for the immediate future, for whatever that's worth. I've bought their cases and boards before. Don't know what else they make under their own name.
Huge manufacturer gets to top of the pile by being a bunch of complete scumbags and treating everyone like dirt!
In other news bears go behind trees and pope involved in religion shocker!
Nasty Facts of Life They Should Teach You In School #1:
We are the workers and ever since we moved out of the cottages into the factories we have been easy targets. As individuals we need the money more than the companies need us, for every person that drops down on the production line, another thousand are ready to step in and take their place. You have plan to do it for the shortest time possible, get the money and get out as soon as you are able.
after a spate of worker suicides?
11 suicides in a year out of 800 000 FOXCONN workers? I don't believe that - it ought to be 5 or 10 times that.
Perhaps 11 in a year out 110 000 in just one factory -- the sucide rate in AUS is about 10 per 100 000.
The sucide rate may be a little higher in AUS than in China, but I hope AUS is not 10 times worse than FOXCONN.
it's not that simple a comparison, you can't just take the average suicide rate for a country and apply it to a specific community.
If you took the suicide rate of factory workers, within specific income brackets etc, then you possibly could compare them, but the cultural differences between the two countries may make that a bit pointless still. Shame doesn't play as big a part in it* in the west.
People commit suicide for all sorts of reasons, from depressed teenagers, to addicts, to prisoners, to people who have lost their jobs. Work stress is in there somewhere, although the employment laws should mean that it's not one of the top reasons in the west.
*or we'd have a lot fewer ex-bank executives kicking about.
I sense a far greater problem
Does this mean we won't be getting an iPad price drop before Christmas?
You have discovered why a laptop costs 500$, and why manufacturing jobs are being outsourced.
Maybe you could tackle global warming next.
..it's awfull. Now, off to the "Everything For A Pound" shop..
It's probable too that situations like this make it possible for all those "Pound" and "Bargain" shops to flourish ("Dollar and Dime Stores" in the US?)
Fully agree with Peter R.1
And outscourced, "off shore" call centres are also places that should be investigated. At the end of the day it's the shareholders and the ridiculously overpaid senior management bonus payment culture in the likes of HP et al that fuel this situation.
Keep at it
We need the likes of el Reg to keep this in the public eye.
Sic 'em tiger!
Any action will cause more harm than good.
It is a difficult thing to realise, but we need to stop applying our own morality to other countries.
Several years ago I considered boycotting business's that use cheap or child labour. After much soul searching I decided that I would be doing more harm than good.
In many situations we are putting at risk what little these people do have. Already Foxxcon has started relocating some of its business, and I doubt that the locals would thank us for our interference.
I addition to all this, I can't help that the media is trying make something out of nothing. According to Wikipedia, Foxxcon employs 920,000 people. I would like to see the data being waved around compared with other groups.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne only has a population of 259,000, and I dare say there are many more than 12 suicides each year.
The Western world relies on China et al treating its workers like this so we can get our cheap new mobile phones every 12 months.
We also push all our resource wasting and pollution creating industry's over there so we can stand back and let them take the blame for it.
Company's like Apple don't give company's like Foxconn contracts worth billions without knowing exactly what's going on. I use Apple, but it could be any company that has anything to do with silicon.
People can't complain or even comment when they conveniently don't give a monkeys as long as they get a new shiny toy every few months.
Like we have any way of knowing. That's why good jounalisum is needed to tell us.
It's been well known since forever what pay and working conditions are like in far eastern factories. For many years my feeling has been that anybody that doesn't know has made a deliberate choice to ignore and forget the facts.
"happy, healthy employees ... are the Company's most valuable asset."
Doesn't say which employees. I'd say most senior management are quite happy.
shades of doublespeak
1984, yah know. actually, doublethink, but yah know what ah mean.
Brave New World?
"The sole difference was that instead of manufacturing electronics the workers were doing slave labour in the textile industry"
I think a crucial difference is being overlooked; in the first industrial revolution (18th-19th century), humans became the 'intelligent' portion of various machines (powered looms, lathes etc), which gave them jobs but removed their autonomy. In the second revolution (mid to late 20th century), automation, computers and robots largely replaced people, which gave them back autonomy at the cost of their jobs. Now we are seeing humans replacing (and becoming) the robots, because it is cheaper and 'more efficient' to equip a production line with 100 000 ex-rice farmers than it is to automate it, particularly when any given product (TV, laptop, mobile, iThing) has a manufacturing and sales life-span measured in months, if not weeks. Why halt and re-tool a machine-based production line for every new form factor when you can 'reprogram' your workforce to put screw x into hole y instead of hole z for 60 hours a week instead? This means that millions of people are now doing the kind of repetitive pick/place, micro-soldering, insanely-small screw-driving type assembly work that only a few years ago would have been either machine based, and thus capital-expensive, or simply impossible to carry out on any scale. While working ankle-deep in paddyfield poo can hardly have been pleasant, it seems unlikely that we can expect humans to become clean-room automata overnight without a certain amount of 'equipment-failure', even if they are choosing to do so (rather than being forced by prevailing economic imperatives), and the moral culpability for the casualties lies at least in part on us and our rapacious desire for shiny new (and cheap) toys...
Made in China
I was listening to C-SPAN's Book TV earlier this year, when I happened to watch a review of
One of the things it brought out, was that if your car breaks down, you have to get fixed HERE.
Jobs like these---auto mechanics, doctors, barbers, etc., can not be out-sourced, although certain aspects of the job can be, such as having x-rays read in India or Australia.
The whole world has become a big sweatshop for corporations and there are not enough jobs left
for the West.
Have made a big thing about ethical sourcing and ensuring that the little blokies at the bottom of the rung get a comparitively fair shake. Same with stuff like Fairtrade and the like.
Maybe that is the next marketing story for the likes of Apple and other brands who like to be seen to have a positive image.
Couldn't hurt much could it?
Mmmm yes, Hi-Ho Complacency, let's just let them all sort it out themselves...
In the States, as well, we've had a government that, once sufficiently pressed to make acknowledgement, then consented to improve labor standards.
In China, they have a government that shoves as much as it can under the carpet. Of course, some of those carpets cover prisons, too.
...and some of those carpets are made of international IOUs, I'm afraid. That's a fact of life, these days, at the international level.
None of that indicates as if we should be complacent about humans rights abuses, however - even those made in and of that manufacturing giant of the modern world.
If we don't start facing this one side of it, now - now that these indicators are coming out, reaching us over here - then it will come back to haunt us. I say we save our children the effort, and face up to it, today - and actually follow though on our corporate pledges, as such.
That bad, but not that simple.
I was on this one when the original suicides came to light.
And I do mean came to light ...
Anyone with Internet access can look up the rules Apple and the others are hiding behind.
You'll find they violate Chinese Law, but not American Law ... because there isn't any American Law regarding the duration of work.
Now if you are intrigued as to what this all means, you can look at the pictures I sent around to a half dozen reporters about six weeks ago (and heard not a peep back from anyone).
I picked two areas at random ... Shenzhen, China and Cupertino, USA to illustrate the point.
In early October the Shenzhen workers passed the Dawn-to-Dusk point. But don't feel sorry for them because they will see the sun again in March.
This has been in place for a long time... Since 2008 apple has been PUBLISHING, willfully their on-site inspection reports (they were private before that). Many times in history apple has fired a company (yes, an entire supplier), or refused payment or shipment of merchandise for a supplier failing to meet not only local laws, but their own standards. Of all the companies FoxConn manufactures for, Apple is the SOLE company who conducts regular on-site inspections as well as "surprise" inspections. Until the suicide reports, it had been over 3 years since any other firm had an on-site labor condition inspection at all.
60 hour weeks are permitted. 10 hour shifts are permitted. Guess what, they are here in the USA too, and in FoxConn, they're required to be paid their premium rate for ANY hours over 40 in a week. Not all companies enforce such restrictions, and Chinese law does not either, and yet even with these conditions, people willfully leave employment at one company for a chance to work at foxconn.
In a population of 400,000 people, YES, you will find abuse if you go looking. Fact: the suicide rate among workers there is lower than the general US population suicide rate, lower than the specific demographic of US population on par with foxconn workers, and lower than the Chinese suicide rate for the same demographic as well.
As for dawn to dusk, I leave my house before sunrise and arrive home after sunset more days of the year than I do not. This is NORMAL if you commute more than an hour to get to work, or if you work in some fields. 6 different jobs I've had in my career I have averaged over 50 hours per week, and I can't count the number of 70+ hour weeks I've worked. At several points I've lived in crappy, leaky, dysfunctional, insect infested, apartments, or on a friend's graces not being able to afford a place of my own, while working here in the US well above minimum wage and doing said 50+ hour weeks. Everything is relative.
Dilbert had it right in 1993
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