Recent events in China involving the workforce at Foxconn facilities indicate that, despite efforts to ameliorate unhealthy working conditions, a great deal of dissatisfaction remains (1,2).
Observers of these events throughout the world are curious and concerned about what is happening. Below you will find a proposed symposium to be held at the APA-NIOSH Work and Health Conference in Los Angeles May 16-19 2013 to which, we hope, representatives of the various organizations responsible for these conditions including Apple Corporation and Foxconn Corporation as well as the Fair Labor Association (hired by Apple to investigate events at Foxconn's Chengdu, Guanlan, and Longhua facilties), CLW and SACOM will appear and present their views on the matter.
Working Conditions in Multinational Corporations: The Case of Foxconn in China
The processes of globalization – the steadily increasing inter-dependency of world economies, production, trade, technology and culture – is having a enormous impact on work, work organizations and the health of working people. The benefits to many people in terms of opportunities for employment and consequent rising standards of living have been quite clear for a number of decades. Recently, some negative consequences of globalization have become visible. The need for corporate profitability drives globalization, technology and workplace organizational changes resulting in more competition, restructuring and downsizing, off shoring and outsourcing, more precarious work and increased job insecurity, as well as increased intensification and time pressure at work. It appears Western corporations often outsource their manufacturing activities along with their occupational health and safety concerns resulting in having workers in countries with fewer labor production rules working in more dangerous jobs.
The consequences of these processes for the mental and physical well-being of workers have recently received considerable attention. For example, a great deal has been written about the working conditions for factory workers at various Foxconn manufacturing facilities in China during the past 3 years after a series of 14 suicides occurred during 2010 at the Shenzhen manufacturing facility in southern China - the manufacturing location for the iPhone manufactured by Apple Corporation. The reasons for the fatalities remain unclear today but they occurrence resulted in much media speculation as to the quality of the working conditions at Foxconn in general. They were described in one report as like a "labor camp". Foxconn has initiated a number of changes at their plants including increasing wages for employees as well as requiring workers to sign a legally binding document guaranteeing that they (and their descendants) would not sue the company as a result of any unexpected death, self-injury or suicide. The attention garnered by the news of the suicide deaths appears to have prompted several customers including Apple Corporation to initiate an investigation into conditions at Foxconn plants in which they retained the services of the Fair Labor Association to conduct an extensive investigation of the plant. Long reports were issued by the FLA as well as by Chinese organizations including China Labor Watch and SACOM (Students and Scholar against corporate misbehavior). Despite the attention and the changes introduced by Foxconn, conflict between workers, security and management at these plants appears to be increasing.
The goals of this panel are to examine recent events at Foxconn the employer of over 1 million Chinese working people (the majority recent migrants from rural farming areas of China) as follows:
1. To describe conditions in Foxconn factories - including factory life, hours, pay, living conditions
2. To increase our understanding of how and why these conditions exist at Foxconn including the connections to globalization in general
3. To examine efforts to improve working conditions at Foxconn
4. To understand obstacles at Foxconn to creating healthy working conditions
5. To examine the connection between conditions in China and working conditions (changing) in the U.S.
We will invite panel participants from the following organizations so as to obtain multiple perspectives on conditions at the Foxconn Shenzhen facility.
1. Foxconn Corporation - Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd. (trading as Foxconn) is a Taiwanese multinational electronics manufacturing company headquartered in Tucheng, New Taipei, Taiwan. It is the world's largest maker of electronic components. It employs more than one million workers, mostly in China.
2. Apple - The largest publicly traded corporation in the world. The company has over 60,400 permanent full time employees and more than 250,000 employees at other companies such as Foxconn.
3. Fair Labor Association - FLA - The mission of the Fair Labor Association is to combine the efforts of business, civil society organizations, and colleges and universities to promote and protect workers’ rights and to improve working conditions globally through adherence to international standards.
4. China Labor Watch (CLW) was founded in 2000. China Labor Watch is an independent not-for-profit organization. In the past ten years, CLW has collaborated with unions, labor organizations and the media to conduct a series of in-depth assessments of factories in China that produce toys, bikes, shoes, furniture, clothing, and electronics for some of the largest U.S. companies.
5. SACOM – Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior is a nonprofit organization founded in Hong Kong in June 2005. SACOM originated from a students’ movement devoted to improving the labor conditions of cleaning workers and security guards under the outsourcing policy.
6. A voice of a Foxconn Chinese worker (if this is possible).
7. A representative American Academic researcher familiar with Foxconn and conditions there.
The panel will use the following format. Each speaker will be given 10-15 minutes to address broadly the following similar questions.
a. Why did so many workers commit suicide in 2010 and 2011?
b. What are working conditions like at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, Guandong province?
c. How many hours do workers put in during an average week and what are they paid.
d. What can be done to improve conditions at the facility?
Each panelist will be given a maximum of 15 minutes to allow for discussion including questions and comments from the audience.
* 1. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=riots-suicides-apple