Oct 1, 2012
Last week, Foxconn was forced to temporarily shut down one of its huge electronics plants due to a labor dispute. After the company guards beat up workers in the plant, about 2,000 assembly line workers fought a pitched battle with the guards. Then, 5,000 police officers were mobilized to the plant, which employs more than 79,000 workers in Taiyuan, China.
Foxconn manufactures more than 40% of the world’s electronics for Apple, Samsung, Dell, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and many others. It is the largest private company in China, with 1.2 million workers.
In Foxconn plants, modern electronic gadgets like smartphones are manufactured under very oppressive conditions. Workers unanimously complain that they suffer "verbal and physical abuse" by guards. In 2010, thirteen workers committed suicide at Foxconn plants. Instead of addressing workers’ actual needs, the company installed fish nets around the buildings to prevent workers jumping from buildings. In the same year, Foxconn had to temporarily shut down a plant in India when 250 workers fell sick. And in May 2011, two people were killed after an explosion at a Foxconn plant in Chengdu, China.
Work intensity is also intolerable. Workers describe workdays that routinely extend three hours into overtime, and more than 60 hours per week, leaving no time for the workers to have life beyond work and sleep. And there is no overtime pay. When a new electronic gadget is pushed to the market, the workload of Foxconn workers suddenly surges. For example, before the launch of the iPhone 5, the workers at the Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant did not have a day off in the previous 30 days.
Facing battling workers, Foxconn declared that employee welfare will be improved and over-time payments will be made as promised.
But Foxconn made promises in the past, almost immediately breaking them. Only the workers own combativity will hold them to respect the promises they make.