In the first five months of this year, Foxconn Technology Group, a subsidiary of Hon-Hai Precision Industry, has seen 13 suicide attempts, resulting in ten dead and three injured. These workers are from Foxconn Long-Hua Production Factory in the Chinese city of Shenzhen. Except for mourning for the deceased, several issues, including the truth concerning the deaths, the accountability concerning, the responses of a civic society in the face of such a tragedy resulting from labor exploitation, and the social/political responsibility of the government as well as the media, have yet to be addressed and clarified.
We believe that Foxconn suicide cluster is a bitter accusation made with 12 young lives against the inhumane, exploitative labor regime. We strongly urge three parties to be responsible for it:
First of all, Foxconn Technology along with Hon Hai Precision Industry should not shirk the responsibility.
The suicide cluster highlights the problem of military discipline in the factory. Although the wage in Foxconn is relatively high compared to other OEM factories in Shenzhen, the concentration camp styled controlling system, means of supervisory over employees and repeated labor for more than a dozen hours a day on production lines are main reasons for physical and mental exhaustion and alienation of the workers. Pay raise is not the solution.
To Taiwan-funded enterprises including Foxconn/Hon Hai, we ask for an end to military discipline in the factory as well as the dormitory, the improvement of working and living conditions of the workers, and the establishment of a humane production-line process. These are the basic requirements for so-called “corporate social responsibility” that each employer should bear.
The second to take responsibility is the Chinese government, who favored the employers and failed to ensure basic labor rights in China.
Those who are misleadingly called “outside workers” or “peasant workers” are employees of private ventures. They are the anonymous heroes that make China factory of the world and spur the domestic economic development. However, these workers are under double oppressions from the working conditions and the household registration system. In the case of Foxconn Technology, though it pays each employee a wage above the minimum in Shenzhen, the money could hardly sustain a family living in a city. Secondly, local governments are reluctant to offer social insurance, health care or education for the second generation of migrant peasant workers. And third, China does not enforce the Labour Act seriously. The representative of the labour union of Foxconn, ironically, is the assistant of the chairman Terry Guo. Also, enforcement of the Law on Employment Contract is lax. It is not surprising that unreasonable working conditions in the factory are all “legal”.
We urge the Chinese government to raise the statutory minimum wage to a level that meets the basic needs of urban living, to abolish household registration system under which people are segregated into “the local” and the “the outsiders”. We also ask for a reform in the existing labour union system toward the guarantee of shop floor labour representation and the establishment of a rational mechanism for labor-management negotiation.
Third, multinational companies, especially Apple Computer Inc., should take the responsibility of the tragedy in Foxconn.
That Taiwanese electronic companies have such poor conditions, low wages level and inhumane mode of labor discipline, have much to do with the price competitions of global brands such as Apple, HP, Dell. These global brands achieve huge profits through the strategies of cost down outsourcing, resulting in the OEM vendors like Foxconn falling into a cut-throat price war of bidding orders. To receive contracts from these multinationals, OEM vendors minimize their costs by transferring the price pressure onto their workers in forms of low pay, military discipline and ruthless working conditions. For example, an i-Pad is sold at US$499, for which Foxconn is paid US$11.20 for each unit it makes. Apple’s profit is US$297, over 50% of the listed price. Foxconn’s share is roughly 2.3%, and of that amount, how much do the OEM engineers at Taiwan and the production line workers at China receive?
We condemn multinational companies like Apple for making extortionate profits out of sweatshops through their mean sourcing strategies in the global value chain. Apple’s products such as the iPad symbolize the vicious circle of exploitation and extremely unfair value distribution structure, which is exactly the despicable essence of global capitalism.
Last but not least, Taiwan’s government has responded most inappropriately. The Premier, Wu Den-Yih, commented publicly that “I hope Taiwan’s people encourage Terry Guo since he is working for Taiwan’s economic development.” while the President of Legislative Yuan, Wang Jin-Ping, asserted “the media should protect our own” and “the difficulty he (Terry Guo) faces is also that of the nation.” The logic behind their comments is that Taiwan-based enterprises can freely in exploit the labor and environment overseas in the name of economic development and that Taiwan’s media should not voice any criticism should anything go wrong. In other words, Taiwan’s government is an accessory to the wrongdoings of international conglomerates, encouraging them to go against the worldwide norm, thus sabotaging Taiwan’s image and cross-strait relations. It is ironic for the government of President Ma Ying-Jeou, whose campaign slogan two years ago was “a country founded on the value of human rights.”
Wether at Taiwan or China, Foxconn should shoulder most of the responsibility for the suicides of its workers. We hope Taiwan’s public and media could recognize the oppression on laborers on both sides of the strait by structural factors.
We would like to emphasize that Taiwan’s society should not protect the partners in crime of multinational companies an politicians but rather the democracy and basic labor rights. We highlight that Hon Hai Precision Industry, the Chinese government and Apple Computer Inc. should all take responsibility for the Foxconn suicides. We regret that we are powerless to prevent what has happened, but we still have the chance to prevent tragedies from occurring again. Meanwhile, we, people of the world, ask for improvements on the working conditions and management system in factories like Foxconn, and we also urge the Chinese government to improve the labour rights in China.
Finally, we urge all the consumers to boycott iPhone 4G until the working conditions of its manufacturing factories are genuinely improved.
Recently, the governments and media on both sides of the strait have begun to avoid issues concerning Foxconn suicides and China’s labor rights. However, by avoiding and twisting the facts would not make us less comfortable with our conscience. Foxconn suicides will always serve as a reminder for our social conscience.