In Focus: Students and labour activists protest Foxconn’s working conditions

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  • In Focus

    Students and labour activists protest Foxconn’s working conditions

In Focus

Students and labour activists protest Foxconn’s working conditions

In May 2011, the Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) and a group of labour activists staged a protest against Foxconn International Holdings (FIH). The activists wore worker uniforms and performed “planking” (lying on the floor face-down) outside of Foxconn’s shareholders meeting on May 18 in order to criticize the company’s failure to address the dire working conditions at its factories.

Foxconn, which produces electronics for large companies such as Apple, has recently come under intense scrutiny from workers and labour right advocates since 2010, undergoing criticism for the dire working conditions associated with its factories. On May 20th an explosion at the Foxconn polishing workshop in Chengdu, which produces Apple’s iPad 2, killed 3 workers.

The May explosion is only the latest in the rash of incidents regarding worker safety at Foxconn. Complaints from workers and SACOM, regarding the adverse health impacts on workers due to the dust from polishing electronics cases, had been circulating for months prior to the explosion without redress from Foxconn. Workers reported experiencing respiratory infections due to a lack of proper ventilation and protective equipment. The dust has now been linked to the explosion at the Chengdu factory as well – a problem SACOM believes could have been avoided had Foxconn complied with local laws on work safety and implemented corrective procedures to address the problem. 

SACOM has also highlighted the issue of worker suicide at Foxconn through an investigative report it released in 2010: “Workers as Machines: Military Management in Foxconn”. The report, named after SACOM’s discovery that Foxconn workers were forced to work 80 to 100 hours of overtime (three times China’s legal limit) via “military-styled training”, outlines labour conditions in three Foxconn manufacturing facilities. The study reveals that between January and August 2010 17 Foxconn workers attempted suicide, resulting in 13 deaths. Other issues such as a lack of a living wage, inadequate worker health and safety, a powerless trade union, and workers’ limited freedom to organize were also criticized in the report.

SACOM claims that Foxconn has failed to effectively address any of the labour issues present in its production facilities that were brought up by the report. The organization calls on the corporation and its clients (which include major electronics industry giants such as Apple, HP, and Dell) to work towards reviewing Foxconn’s worker management methods, assisting in the formation of a democratic trade union, and providing a living wage to its workers.

Algemene Pensioen Groep (APG), a pension administration organization based in the Netherlands, has also actively engaged Foxconn on its labour standards. In subsequent discussions with the corporation, APG noted that the problem lay in Foxconn’s business model with its customers and the aforementioned military-style working conditions. APG has planned for extensive engagement with the sector.

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