Foxconn's factory scandal shows no improvement

A new report from rights group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) says conditions at the notorious Shenzhen factory in China have not improved.

Despite public breast-beating and treats for staff such as days out at worker rallies – what fun! –Foxconn and its customers, which include Apple, HP and Dell, are still treating workers as machines, says SACOM.

The organisation interviewed 100 Foxconn workers to reach its conclusions, and says, most notably, that the promised pay rise to Y2,000 per month has failed to materialise – indeed, most workers haven’t even been told about it.

“This is the result of permanent pressure from buyers on their suppliers to produce cheaper,” says Chantal Peyer, from the Swiss NGO Bread for All, which supports the findings of the report.

“A brand like Apple has a very high profit margin on hardware: more than 40 percent. But it asks suppliers, which have a much lower profit margin of about four percent, to lower production costs. As a result, labour costs are squeezed and workers never get living wages.”

And working hours haven’t fallen either, says SACOM. While staff are now in theory limited to a positively leisurely 80 hours a week, they are reporting pressure to cheat on overtime records. They’re also subjected to an hour’s worth of unpaid meetings a day, in which they are harangued about production targets.

There’s still ‘a culture of absolute obedience’, says SACOM, which stretches even to a ban on hairdryers. Disciplinary actions are harsh, including public confessions and making workers copy out sayings of CEO Terry Gou – possibly including our two favourites, “A harsh environment is a good thing,” and “Hungry people have especially clear minds”.

“In the aftermath of the series of suicides, Foxconn attributes suicides to ‘the personal problems’ of victims and denies there is problem in its management methodology,” says Debby Chan of SACOM.

If Foxconn hasn’t managed to clean up its act even at Shenzhen, a factory with such a media spotlight on it, there’s little hope for the company’s other employees around the world, says Pauline Overeem, coordinator at campaigning group GoodElectronics.

“The electronics industry should acknowledge that the problems at Foxconn do not stand alone; the Foxconn suicides represent a tip of an iceberg of labour issues that occur throughout the global electronics supply chain”, she says.

“Foxconn is producing in India, Czech Republic, Mexico, and other countries and is producing for all major consumers brands, as are Foxconn’s competitors.

We contacted Apple, HP and Dell, but they’ve yet to respond with comment.

*Update Dell offered us some comment-free comment: “As a company with an extensive global supply chain, Dell recognizes its responsibility to work with suppliers promoting sustainable environmental practices, the health and safety of people, and fundamental human rights and dignity.

“Dell expects our suppliers to employ the same high standards we do in our own facilities. We enforce these standards through a variety of tools including the Electronics Industry code of conduct, business reviews with suppliers, self-assessments and audits. Any reports of poor working conditions in Dell’s supply chain are investigated and appropriate action is taken.”