Zhang Lijia: Treat Human Beings as Humans

On China Beat, writer Zhang Lijia discusses the recent spate of suicides at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant:

It reminds me of the state-owned rocket factory I worked for in the 1980s which provided plenty of socialist welfare but also controlled our lives: no lipstick, no permed hair, and no dating within three years of entering the factory.

Have the work conditions improved over the years? Yes, probably, within the state-owned enterprises that still hold China’s key industries. The labor intensity in those, though much increased, isn’t nearly as bad as in some of the private sectors. Over the years, foreign and private investment have turned China’s coastal regions into the factories — and often the sweatshops — of the world.

Foxconn workers are allowed only a few minutes for toilet breaks and are barely permitted to talk to their colleagues. To keep the production line running, they have to work 12-hour shifts. All workers have to sign a statement, saying they “voluntarily” work over-time. The truth is: without the over-time payment, they can hardly survive on their basic salary of 900 yuan. No one at Foxconn has any time to use amenities at the plant.

The local government often tolerates certain violations of labor laws because of the revenue the factories bring in to the region — they “keep one eye open and one eye shut,” as the Chinese would say.

June 24, 2010 2:41 PM
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