On the Rooftops of Foxconn (Updated)

Last week, workers at a Foxconn Technology Group campus in Wuhan gathered on the factory roof to protest poor working conditions. Foxconn manufactures products for leaders in the world of hi-tech gadgetry, including Apple, Sony, Microsoft and Amazon. PC World describes the hard bargaining chip used by the protestors, and its sensitivity at Foxconn:

Workers at a Foxconn Technology Group campus in China staged a protest last week, threatening to jump off a building if the company did not meet their compensation demands, according to local Chinese news reports.

[…]Working conditions at Foxconn’s factories in China have been under the spotlight since 2010, when a string of suicides occurred at the factories, that involved employees jumping off buildings. During that year, there were a total of 18 suicide attempts, with 14 deaths, according to watchdog group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior.

The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore provides us with an inside account of what drove the workers to these measures:

“We were put to work without any training, and paid piecemeal,” said one of the protesting workers, who asked not to be named. “The assembly line ran very fast and after just one morning we all had blisters and the skin on our hand was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and no one could bear it,” he said.

Several reports from inside Foxconn factories have suggested that while the company is more advanced than many of its competitors, it is run in a “military” fashion that many workers cannot cope with. At Foxconn’s flagship plant in Longhua, five per cent of its workers, or 24,000 people, quit every month.

“Because we could not cope, we went on strike,” said the worker. “It was not about the money but because we felt we had no options. At first, the managers said anyone who wanted to quit could have one month’s pay as compensation, but then they withdrew that offer. So we went to the roof and threatened a mass suicide”.

The protestors were eventually talked down from the rooftop by Wuhan mayor Tang Liangzhi. Visit Malcolm Moore’s Google+ page for more musings on the situation and the media’s reactions to it. Photos of the demonstration can be seen @shunqiziranba’s Tencent Weibo page.

A Foxconn factory in Shenzhen was the focus of this week’s episode of Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life. When devout member of the “cult of Mac” Mike Daisey sees his faith in all-things-Apple shaken, he travels to China for further investigation. The episode – in two acts – first tells Daisey’s story, and then examines the methods he utilized in his reporting. Visit This American Life’s homepage to hear the entire podcast:

Mike Daisey was a self-described “worshipper in the cult of Mac.” Then he saw some photos from a new iPhone, taken by workers at the factory where it was made. Mike wondered: Who makes all my crap? He traveled to China to find out.

[NOTE: This American Life has since retracted Mike DAisey’s report after it was discovered that much of it had been fabricated. See more here.]

For more on Foxconn, protest and labor conditions in China, see prior CDT coverage of undercover journalism within the confines of a Foxconn factory, a documentary film about Chinese factory workers, or Foxconn’s plans to automate their assembly-line, minimizing the potential for suicidal workers.

January 11, 2012 2:15 PM
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