The Only Thing Lower Than Our Prices Is Our Morals

On September 24 2012 a riot broke out at the Foxconn Plant in Taiyuan, China. Foxconn is an incredibly large electronics manufacturer that assembles products for companies such as Apple, Sony, Amazon and Nintendo to name but a few. The riot, which involved 2,000 workers (with 40 suffering injuries) and halted the production lines of many devices, broke out due to the official response of ‘personal disputes’. The unofficial reason however is that security guards had been beating workers for unspecified reasons.

This is unsurprisingly the first time that the company has been involved in a very serious controversy surrounding the ethics of the organisation and how it treats it’s employees. In 2009 a worker named Sun Danyong (25 years old) committed suicide. This is seen to be connected with him reporting the loss of a prototype version of the yet-unreleased iPhone 4. It is believed that rather than dealing with the abuse he would receive, it would be a better out come for him to take his own life.

In 2010 the company reported a string of 14 suicides occurring in fairy quick succession. The suicides were said to be down to harsh working conditions and alienation that migrant workers felt. This lead to a report by Chinese universities to label the manufacturing plant as labour camps with high levels of widespread worker mistreatment and abuses of the overtime system to negatively affect worker pay. To help combat the high levels of suicide the company installed ‘suicide-prevention netting’ to physically stop workers from being able to harm themselves in the plants. Also added however, was a clause in the workers contracts that prevents the families of the workers taking legal action against Foxconn should that worker suddenly die, self-harm or commit suicide.

Mistreatments of overtime pay (where a worker is paid in 30 minute installments, so someone who works for 25 mins won’t receive any pay at all, and someone who works for 45 mins will only be paid for 30), allegations of working student interns for longer than legally allowed, poor working conditions and allegations of under-age workers still plague the company and indeed any products that it makes.

Whilst things have gradually been getting better (suicide rates for example have been decreasing since 2010), these riots do show that all is still not well in the Chinese labour market. Also of note is that Foxconn is rated as one of the better manufacturing companies for workers rights and pay (just how bad are the others?) and that new sets of regulations will be brought in around 2015 to make overtime pay that little bit fairer. That said things like these riots are bound to happen again. Why? The reason these big companies choose China in the first place is because they can get away with rubbish pay and next to no rights for the workers. This would change if manufacturing was brought to developed countries. But then, who wants to pay twice as much for their shiny new TV?

As long as we want low priced toys and shareholders want high profit margins, workers rights will remain in the background and little to no advancement will be made. So the next time you read a book on your Kindle, play a game on your Xbox or browse the web on your iPad just think about the person who made it and what conditions they make your device in. And yes, this article was written on a Foxconn device.

Ian Dutton

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