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Foxconn: Working Conditions in Chinese Factories

The Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., (also known by its trading name, Foxconn), has been accused of violating labour rights for many years.They keep their employees in overcrowded dormitories run by military-like security forces. People work excessive hours, often with no compensation for overtime, which the company claims is done voluntarily. Management controls every aspect of workers’ lives, interfering with their privacy. The concept of privacy is even an illusion, as up to 24 people share a room in huge blockhouses.

Foxconn employs about 1.2 million workers in China. In Shenzhen and Chengdu, a combined Foxconn workforce of 500,000 provides labour for Apple Inc. Violations against workers have already been widely reported over the last decade. However, in recent years these issues have drawn more attention from international media and human rights organisations as there have been a number of suicides and frequent riots in Chinese Foxconn factories.[1]

After mounting allegations, Foxconn, pressured by their largest clients, has taken steps to audit working conditions in production plants. While raises on 25 percent to a daily wage of over $5 have been promised, reports have surfaced indicating that workers were threatened and ordered only to share certain information, as deemed acceptable by Foxconn. The improvements themselves have also been questioned[2]. It should be noted that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) only inspected three Foxconn factories: two in Shenzhen and one in Chengdu, Sichuan. They reported severe health and safety risks, and excessive hours of overtime without appropriate payments.[3]

Foxconn has been moving its production further north to inland China. There is no indication that similar compensation or improvements to working conditions have taken place in other factories. Nevertheless, human rights organisations have gained insight into the gated Foxconn dormitories and highlighted some daily practices including full control over people’s working schedules, as well as their free time. Workers are prohibited from using certain devices, their rooms are raided, and if they are found to have broken any of the strict rules, they have to confess their guilt publicly.[4]

Time off is usually only used for rest as people regularly work shifts of 11 to 13 hours. Working hours are so long that people sleep in the factories when a new product is being released. Additionally, if targets are not met, lunch breaks are also cancelled. Days off are rare and trips home to visit family are only allowed once a year. This is particularly concerning as most of the workers are immigrants from distant provinces. They are usually young people who are not in a strong position to find employment in their home
regions. Some of them are attracted by Foxconn advertising campaigns. The largest group of Foxconn employees is between 18 and 21 years old although incidents of child labour have been observed.

Watch the YouTube video: Those Were the Years, When I Was at Foxconn

As the largest private employer in China, Foxconn holds a position superior to that of local
communities and authorities. Although workers are often exposed to harmful substances without being informed, surrounding areas are also subjected to water and air pollution. This problem is consistent among Foxconn factories worldwide. Disturbing odours which cause immediate respiratory problems and gas leaks have frequently occurred in many locations. [5]

Although local authorities are often attracted to the prospect of opening a large factory providing employment, control over the environmental impact is usually very limited. Once established, it is very difficult to determine the effects on people’s health. China’s Centre for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) set up safety zones for different types of production, however, the regulations have not yet been determined for certain categories. Consequences of such cases have been visible in Taiyuan where inhabitants of villages and settlements around the Foxconn factory are unable to determine the damage the factory may be causing to their health. They do know that there are rising numbers of respiratory disorders which already amount to 70 percent of the illnesses among the villagers.[6]