Sweatshops are good for Apple and Foxconn, but not for workers31-05-2012
“What’s wrong with sweatshops?” sums up the attitude of Terry Gou Taiming, the Foxconn CEO. In April 2012, when Foxconn organised a trip to Taiwan for selected Mainland workers, Gou explained his views to the Taiwan media, saying "There's nothing wrong with working hard, with blood and sweat, as long as no laws are broken." Most of the workers are angry with Terry Gou’s statement. “Of course sweatshops are good for Terry Gou, but not us.
Without our blood and sweat, how could Foxconn grow rapidly?” Lin Yong, a male worker from Guanlan campus retorted.
The spate of suicides at Foxconn in 2010 has put the labour practices of the company in the limelight. The company has adopted a series of public measures such as staging an anti-suicide rally, establishing a hotline centre, organising recreational activities for the workers and so on to try to rebuild its image. Yet, Gou's sweatshop statement speaks for itself. He clearly does not feel that there is any need for structural reform in the labour practices at Foxconn. In the past 2 years, there have been many media exposures of the exploitation of Foxconn’s production workers. Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) has issued 5 reports on Foxconn and Apple to reveal the deplorable working conditions of the workers.
The efforts from different parties generated a public pressure from concerned consumers demanding ethical Apple products. Apple subsequently joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA) in January to cope with the PR crisis. Factory inspections were carried out at Foxconn by the FLA a month later. In late March, the FLA published a report and documented a long list of labour rights abuses at Foxconn. However, FLA is silence towards Apple’s unethical buying practice in the supply chain, as their team is funded by Apple. From March to May 2012, SACOM revisited the Foxconn’s production sites in Zhengzhou of Henan province in inland China and Shenzhen where most of the interviewees work on Apple production lines. The research shows labour rights violations remain the norm in the factories. The following are the key findings of SACOM’s investigations:
- No freedom of speech: In the orientation, workers are warned not to talk to journalists and researchers unless given permission by the management.
- No freedom of association: Workers are ordered to sign up for the company-controlled union without knowing the functions of the unions.
- No transparency in the FLA’s inspections: Workers have no access to the FLA’s report and the remedial actions.
- Overall salary decreases: The basic payment of workers increases but, overall, the salary of workers decreases because the overtime work is cut down.
- Unpaid overtime and demanding production targets: After the pay rise, overtime hours were reduced but, since then, workers have been set higher production targets and sometimes have to work unpaid overtime.
- Excessive overtime for the iPad workers: In the lead-up to the release of the new iPad, workers could not take leave for family reunions during the Chinese New Year. And overtime work for the iPad workers remained at 80 hours a month in April.
- Inhumane treatment: The frontline management continue to impose humiliating disciplinary measures on workers, including forcing workers to write confession letters, reading out these confession letters, cleaning the toilets and manual labouring work.
- Psychological tests for job applicants: The written test for job applicants includes a section designed to screen out workers who have, or might develop, mental health problems.
- Unsafe working environment: No adequate training for workers on work and safety. Workers do not know what kinds of chemicals they are using. At least 728 cases of industrial injuries at Foxconn’s production facilities in Shenzhen have been recorded.
The above findings demonstrate that Apple and Foxconn have not turned over a new leaf. Every time labour rights groups, like SACOM, or the media, uncover the social cost of Apple products, Apple and Foxconn either ignore or deny the accusations. After the FLA’s report, Apple and Foxconn agreed to carry out remedial actions to rectify some of the problems. However, they never pledged to compensate the workers for the labour laws violations and failure to fulfill the code of conduct over the years. In this way, Apple and Foxconn avoid all costs for the labour rights violations. SACOM is deeply worried that Apple and Foxconn may continue these violations because that reduces labour costs.
In the past two years, SACOM has repeatedly demanded that Apple and Foxconn should correct their labour practices. No matter the arrogance that Apple and Foxconn show towards the NGOs, SACOM once again raises our demands on the two companies:
1. Facilitate the formation of genuine trade unions through democratic elections;
2. Provide a living wage for all workers which enables workers to support themselves and their families;
3. Review management methods and ensure workers are treated with respect and dignity;
4. Conduct labour rights training for workers, including training on occupational health and safety; and
5. Compensate victims of non-compliance with the Apple code of conduct.
When SACOM asked the workers if they had any message for the consumers, a 16-year-old Foxconn worker at Zhengzhou factory responded that, “We are exhausted every day, not only physically but psychologically. I hope that Foxconn can look into the management practice and stop asking us to do unpaid overtime work.” Without a genuine trade union, workers are always afraid to speak up as individuals. To amplify our voice, support from consumers is paramount in the campaign for ethical Apple products. SACOM calls on concerned consumers all over the world to keep up the pressure on Apple and Foxconn until the companies end the exploitation of the production workers.
Read SACOM's lastest report: Sweatshops are good for Apple and Foxconn, but not for workers
The past 2 years, SACOM has published a series of reports on labour rights issues in the Chinese electroncis industry, in particular at Foxconn:
• Apple owes Workers and Public a Response over the Poisonings, (May 2010)
• Workers as Machines: Military Management in Foxconn, (October2010)
• More Workers are Poisoned by Apple, (October 2010)
• Foxconn and Apple Fail to Fulfil Promises: Predicaments of Workers after the Suicides, (May 2011)
• iSlave behind the iPhone: Foxconn Workers in Central China, (September 2011)
All reports are downloadable at www.sacom.hk