The word Foxconn probably brings to mind exploited factory workers in China who work long days for slave wages to bring us a host of devices like the iPhone and the iPad. Those miserable working conditions, as well as at least 25 suicides, have forced the issue of cheap labor and its costs into the limelight.
So it is good news that last Saturday, the Taiwan-based company announced that it will raise worker wages up to 25 percent, to about $400 a month, and cut down on excessive overtime.
A Change Of Heart?
The announcement by Foxconn came after an outcry over how employees are treated at its factories. In recent weeks, labor rights groups have staged protests in various countries after reports of the abusive working conditions at some of the factories run by Apple’s Chinese suppliers.
To stem criticism, Apple hired a nonprofit labor group, the Washington-based Fair Labor Association, to inspect the plants it uses. (Together with a couple of other manufacturers in China, Foxconn supplies about 90 percent of Apple’s products. They also make Kindles and a number of gaming systems.)
Chefs Slaughter 6,000 Pigs Each Day
Here’s what they observed:
One Foxconn factory, situated in Shenzhen, central China, is so vast that walking around its outer perimeter takes two hours. The chefs slaughter 6,000 pigs a day to feed the company’s nearly 400,000 workers in this giant industrial complex, spread over 1.2 square miles.
Foxconn employees work anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day, six or seven days a week. And that really is all they do. Their entire life consists of sleeping, getting up, working, eating, having short breaks in between and then going back to bed. They have very little leisure time, and most of them are migrants from other parts of China.
Such facilities have made it possible for devices to be turned out almost as quickly as they are dreamed up.
A Fundemental Shift?
Does the announcement mean a fundamental shift for Chinese manufacturers?
From The New York Times:
For that system to genuinely change, Foxconn, its competitors and their clients — which include Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and the world’s other large electronics firms — must convince consumers in America and elsewhere that improving factories to benefit workers is worth the higher prices of goods.
In addition, other Chinese manufacturers won’t follow suit unless the media exposes more of these types of practices. And it really does take the purchasers of the products, such as Apple, to require that the suppliers actually comply with fair wage and labor practices.
But Foxconn’s announcement is at least a step in the right direction, and it is heartening to know that grassroots pressure can make a difference.
Photo Credit: M.I.C Gadget