Foxconn workers endure long shifts, harsh working conditions, and no recourse to address these issues. You already know that if you read some of the news articles that have been written in the new year. All of it comes after 150 workers threaten suicide if conditions did not improve.
Shifts as long as 36-hours, rare access to bathrooms, no talking or sitting while working, and living quarters with at least a half dozen strangers. No wonder they are suicidal. It is no wonder why my Apple products, which I proudly tout, were more than likely touched by a suicidal worker in the manufacturing process.
One must ask if the CEO of Foxconn if he even cares about these workers when he calls them animals.
“Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache,” said Terry Gou, chairman of Taiwan’s Hon Hai, the parent company of Foxconn.
This is not something lost in translation but part of a larger attitude towards replaceable parts in his company. Hon invited the director of the Tapei Zoo, Chin Shin-Chien, to speak and take part in the company’s annual review. General managers were required to listen to Chin’s advice on managing different animals with Gou’s support.
While Foxconn employees around a million people, the techniques to manage such a large workforce does not require advice from a zookeeper. Well, with Foxconn’s practices it might be true with the way they treat fellow human beings.
One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
The stuff dormitories are the cages while the assembly lines are the display areas for visitors. It is where the company makes the money. Here is what they would need to match.
The facility has 230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn’s work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day. When one Apple executive arrived during a shift change, his car was stuck in a river of employees streaming past. “The scale is unimaginable,” he said.
Foxconn employs nearly 300 guards to direct foot traffic so workers are not crushed in doorway bottlenecks. The facility’s central kitchen cooks an average of three tons of pork and 13 tons of rice a day.
Foxconn Technology has dozens of facilities in Asia and Eastern Europe, and in Mexico and Brazil, and it assembles an estimated 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronics for customers like Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung and Sony.
“They could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said [a former Apple employee]. “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”
The numbers, staggering; the conditions, horrifying. Factories like Foxconn struggle with a high turnover rate that can surpass 10 percent a month. All of this gives the factory, as well as the larger system enabling it, a license to abuse and mistreat people.
Gou would have been better served bringing in a manager of a factory farmer. He could learn how they breed and raise cattle, pigs, and chickens in tight spaces. They are pumped full of growth hormones to reach their weight goals and then led off to slaughter.
Granted, the workers are not slaughtered by Hon, general managers, or by anyone else. Their souls are beaten and bloodied until the will to live no longer exists. Each year the workforce turnover provides enough people to start fresh. The veteran employees leave maimed and marred by the experience.
All for cheaper products to sell us for higher profits. Apple currently sits on $80 billion in cash and garners $400,000 of profit per employee, not including the 700,000 Chinese workers who work for companies that Apple contracts with.
I don’t write this to bash just Apple or to highlight my hypocrisy. I write it to be a larger point of the consequences of globalization. When we fail to implement regulations in trade agreements we inevitably set up a system to harm the voiceless.
That’s the lesson I want to stress and I hope you can take away from this writing.
© Aaron Krager 2008-2014 | Have any questions? Send me an email.