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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Small fight at Foxconn culminates in a massive brawl of 2000 desperate workers against the security guards. Foxconn: "it's probably not work-related!" Really!

I have written more than once about one of the main suppliers of Apple: Foxconn. This Taiwanese / Chinese electronics company is the largest manufacturer of electronic components in the world and it manufactures many products that are famous worldwide: iPad, iPhone, iPod, Kindle, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Also it delivers many building blocks for the personal computer industry, like motherboards and videocards. However, these are not the characteristics that put Foxconn on the road to fame.

Unfortunately, the company has become notorious for the apparent total lack of care for its workers that it displayed, leading to multiple suicide attempts and labor conditions that could best be described as modern slavery.

Read for instance:
In these articles you will find links to two other articles about this company.

In the meantime Foxconn promised ‘to behave’ and Apple gave lip service to improving labor conditions for the Chinese workers that were putting the brand’s iPhones, iPods and iPads together. However, while Apple is celebrating its new flagship telephone, the iPhone 5, it seems that little has changed for the workers of Foxconn.

Today proved that even the most polite, timid, loyal and patient workers, the Chinese, can get in a state of outrage, where they don’t care anymore about keeping their job and receiving their hard-earnt money. So it could happen that a small fight between a worker and a few aggressive security guards ended in 2000 Foxconn workers battling with paramilitary, armed troops. Fortunately, the situation didn’t run out of hand like a few weeks before in South-Africa, where a mine workers’ strike for wage increase ended in a bloodbath with more than 30 miners killed.

Still, it is a tell-tale signal that the labor conditions at Foxconn were so bad that even the smallest spark was enough to let hell break loose.

The Daily Telegraph wrote about the mass brawl that happened today. Here are the pertinent snips:

Armed paramilitary police had to be called in to quell a 2,000-man brawl at the troubled Foxconn factory in Northern China that makes parts for Apple’s iPhone 5, among other products.

Around 40 workers were hospitalised in the riot, which began at around 11pm on Sunday night in one of the factory’s dormitory blocks.

What started as a dispute between a worker and aggressive security guards in one of the factory dormitories spiralled out of control as thousands of workers streamed off their shifts and joined the fray against the plant’s 1,500 security guards.

It took four hours for the police to bring the situation under control, according to a statement from Foxconn, the owners of the plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi province.

“The cause of this dispute is under investigation by local authorities and we are working closely with them in this process, but it appears not to have been work-related,” Foxconn said.

The hi-tech plant […] has had a troubled history. Workers went on strike in March over pay, and in the run-up to the release of the iPhone 5, a Chinese newspaper exposed a series of poor working practices.

The Shanghai Evening Post sent one of its reporters undercover into the Taiyuan factory, where he trained for seven days and then spent three days on the factory floor assembling the new iPhone’s metal “back plates”.

He wrote: “The whole dormitory smells like rubbish when I entered.
There was uncleared rubbish outside every room. Cockroaches crawled out from my wardrobe and the bedsheets are dirty with ash. All the windows are barred.”
He reported that workers were fired if they were found to be carrying any metallic objects, and that workers had to sit still while working.

 “An iPhone 5 back-plate passed in front of me almost every three seconds. I had to pick up the back plate and mark four points using the oil-based paint pen. Every ten hours, I had to finish 3,000 back plates. After several hours, I had terrible neck pain,” he wrote.

Foxconn admitted to the Shanghai Evening Post that “the working environment on the production line can be improved” and promised to investigate the problems. “We are not perfect but we are improving every day,” it added.

I can understand that Foxconn hopes that nobody will make the link between the labor conditions and the massive brawl (first red and bold paragraph). According to Foxconn itself, Foxconn is well on its way to improve labor conditions: “we are not perfect, but we are improving every day” (second red and bold paragraph).

I have a message for Foxconn: when labor and living conditions are so closely connected as at the Foxconn factory and when these conditions are so far below those that we consider to be normal in the west, EVERYTHING has to do with labor conditions. You can’t simply wash your hands clean of that.

It is an audacity that Foxconn dares to say: “we are not perfect...”. People at Foxconn work at least 60 hours per week, but often more and stay at the factory premises almost all year, in dirty rooms without any kind of privacy, behind barred windows like prisoners and with the cockroaches walking freely around their dormitories. These circumstances can deliver so much stress, aggression and anxiety to people that the even the littlest argument between people can turn into a chaos.

This brawl ended without any fatalities, but the next one might not. As long as Foxconn will not drastically change its labor circumstances, working there will smell like modern slavery. These kinds of riots are a logical consequence of it!

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