Foxconn Technology Group is a Taiwanese multinational company with its main plant operating out of Shenzhen, China. Foxconn is hands down the largest manufacturer of electronics, computers and computer components in the world. They produce items such as the Mac mini, iPod, iPad, iPhone, Dell Computers, HP motherboards, Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Amazon kindle, and Cisco Equipment just to name a few.
This behemoth company employs a small army of employees, over 300,000 in its Shenzhen factory alone. The problem is that there have been 11 suicide attempts in a span of just over five months, of those attempts only two survived. The allegations of the management’s military style conduct and inhumane treatment of employees was brought to light by two reporters from the China Business News earlier this year. Since then, they have been sued by Foxconn for Disambiguation and Defamation, and won the court’s decision. The journalists had their assets frozen and a whole slew of drama took place since their story was published. It wasn’t until the intervention of Reporters without Borders’s persistence, to urge Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) to take action that reduced the $3.77 million dollar sentence against the journalists to just a symbolic 12 cents. Since then all reporters in China are very cautious on the reporting’s of this company, rightfully so. I guess it pays to have judges in your pocket.
Apple and Sony as well as some of the other customers of Foxconn have done preliminary investigation on their own to substantiate these accusations (due diligence or fear of litigation). A handful of (current) employees were interviewed for one hour and remarkably nothing out of the ordinary was found, besides over-extended work-time and lack of management compassion, which the company has agreed to make changes on its management policies.
I happen to know personally few of the past and current management as well as line employees that had shared freely on this topic. What I’ve come to learn is a far different story than that of what is found on publication for the general public. You see employees will say one thing to reporters and to investigators under treat of the company’s pendulum and a whole another thing to a friend of a friend over Johnny Walker. However, since this company preaches themselves, that they’ve single handedly saved this region out of depression and paved the way of progress and government through projects, scholarships, taxes, civil infrastructure, etc. You can guess that whatever I report will be limited to commentary of my own opinions and what he said, she said. But you will get an idea that your iPhones and the like comes at the expense of not animal testing but of human suffering.
Obviously we can’t be all one sided and must empathize with the company’s management to keep in line over 200,000 employees that barely have a grade school education. Imagine the nightmares of let’s say a company picnic for 300,000 people? Logistics, how would you move that many people to get from one place to another within the time allotted? How would you feed them and set activities? How would you deal with necessary facilities and waste management? How would you deal with a 10% disgruntled or problematic employee ratio that’s usually around the 17~20 years old age group? How do you make policies on loss prevention for so many undereducated, underpaid and overworked employees with the company’s needs to increasing output while suffering from shrinking margins? How do you deal with a conservative 38% employee turnover rate?
The Military does a great job addressing these issues; I should know I served in the US armed forces in time of war. But none of the military members I knew tried to commit suicide even under the heaviest stress of them all, the possibility of death or dismemberment.
So what makes a young person in China male or female want to end their lives? Answer: Because they feel there are no other options.
Happy, is a nineteen year old assembly-line worker from a poor region of China. She is the eldest sister of four and sends as much money as she can back home from her 1000rmb ($150) per month salary. I have listed just some of her complaints and odd requirements with its penalties that this company would enforce if she breaks these unwritten policies. The oddity is that most workers feel upper management either doesn’t know these practices are taking place or doesn’t care.
Happy likes washing her own clothes by hand, she claims it calms her in times of stress. However, if she washes the mandatory dry cleaning of her factory uniform then she will be penalized 500rmb. That’s half her salary.
If she is late, she will be charged 100rmb per minute. If she refuses or can’t work overtime when needed, she will be removed from work line-up for over a month or until she can come up with the fee for reinstatement. That means no money to send home for a month. That means don’t think about getting sick. If you talk during working hours you get penalized 100rmb. No Cell phones on duty, so what happens in a family emergency? She even had to borrow money once to pay the negative balance from her salary. Imagine working for a whole month then ending up having to pay instead of getting paid.
The first month’s salary is kept as a deposit for the uniform and other items. They say it will be returned once you leave as last-pay. But she hasn’t heard of anyone getting back the full amount, there instinctively will be something wrong with the uniform or some other problem that will warrant a large deduction.
Personal items must be purchased at a pre-designated store on site. If found that you have another brand then it will be thrown out.
She had to pay to get this 18/hr a day job with one day off a month and must pay 100rmb per month to keep it. It does seem that a middle man is making off like a bandit with this set up.
There are 12 other dorm-mates that share her small room; however she can’t understand them nor even know their names or wants to. They are all from different parts of China speaking a different dialect. She wishes she can be with some of the other girls from her province at the factory. She’s upset that there are no support groups and she is so far from home. I asked her why they wouldn’t want you to be with your fellow province-men or friends; she explained that management has this paranoia of a factory mutiny or strike. They don’t like large gatherings of workers from the same area.
I happen to know for a fact that there are facilities at the factory for down-time such as swimming pool, tennis court, basketball court, gym, coffee shop, and a spa. She claims to never have seen it, doesn’t know where it is, and if it does exist then it would be for upper-management and not for the employees. Furthermore, even if they did let us use it, it would only be for two minutes anyway. Since when work is finished your thinking about getting washed up as fast as you can before the hot water is gone and getting some shut-eye before you’re rushing to get to your station again. She tends to forgo breakfast to get a little more sleep.
She was approached by a certain manager offering favors and incentives; if she refused these advances then she would have had a very hard time at the factory. Needless to say she came into this factory as a girl but left a woman. She claims that this is nothing compared to other girls she knows, even as far as rape. At one point the security guards had beaten her boyfriend (that worked with her) to the point he needed to be taken to the hospital. She feels this was out of retaliation or jealousy from the manager. Other claims of Gestapo techniques are far more serious, so much so that I cannot in good conscience write about it without substantiation.
Since none of these claims can be substantiated nor refuted, I can only elicit these claims as hearsay and offer the reader a choice to believe or not to believe (that is not the question). The question is are we really better off with these things, with supply and demand, that it takes the most sacred of innocence of adolescent and early adulthood, trust?