Trade unions, individual consumers, labour groups, campaign organisations, academics etc. from all over the world have joined in the protest to condemn the suicidal regime at Foxconn’s Chinese production sites and the still inadequate responses of the global electronics industry so far.
Over the recent months, the Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn has witnessed a series of suicides at it’s Longhua plant near Shenzhen in mainland China. June 7, a Foxconn-employed engineer collapsed and died after having worked for 34 hours non-stop. The company has been addressed and criticised for its harsh working regime, heavy work load, overtime, low wages, and the lack of democratically elected workers representatives.
The Hong Kong based labour rights group SACOM has been ardently working to raise international awareness. SACOM’s four main demands in a nutshell:
- Review of the management methods at Foxconn to ease the pressure on workers;
- Facilitate the formation of a trade union through a democratic election;
- Reform the purchasing model to end the “race to the bottom” game; and
- Provide a decent wage so that workers need not endanger themselves by working so much overtime.
Chinese sociologists have published an unusually frank and strong-worded appeal analysing the causes and the characteristics of the problems of second generation of migrant workers in China. Commenting upon the status of China as the world’s factory, they write that “Foxconn’s situation today is inextricably linked to the blood and sweat of migrant workers. To serve as a business leader which stresses Corporate Social Responsibility, which claims to contribute to society, and value workers, Foxconn ought to pay labourers a dignified wage, provide basic material conditions for a normal, dignified life, and allow migrant workers to become true “citizens of the enterprise”.
An international group of scholars has also published an appeal, calling for changes in the labour policies of the contract manufacturing sector. They write that such changes must be based on a comprehensive effort to restore transparency and public scrutiny over the contract relations between brand name and contract manufacturing companies. Meticulous attention needs to be devoted to labour, health and environmental standards, as well as to democratic participation of workers at the workplace. The so-called “Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC)” – a code of conduct and mechanism of consultation established by major IT companies – has failed completely to secure basic standards of work, environmental justice and social responsibility throughout the electronics industry and its “supply chains”.
June 1st, GoodElectronics and makeITfair published a public statement, expressing solidarity with the Foxconn workers and calling upon Foxcon and its buyers to demonstrate their true commitment to responsible supply chain management. The statement is being explicitly endorsed by a growing number of consumers, organisations and networks, including for example Procure IT Fair, the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), Dutch trade union FNV, the Maquila Solidarity Network, SOMO, Finnwatch, Swedwatch, the Finnish pro-fair trade movement REPU, Suedwind (Austria), WEED( Germany), Bread for All (Switzerland), and GreenIT.fr.
Today, June 8th, while Apple launches its 4th generation iPhone, labour activists worldwide are commemorating the workers who committed suicide at the Foxconn factory in Shenzen.
Protest are staged at the Hon Hai / Foxconn headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, at the occasion of the company´s annual general meeting.
In Hong Kong, activist groups including SACOM protest are staged at Studio A, an Apple retail shop owned by Gou Tai-chiang, the younger brother of Terry Gou (Foxconn’s founder and chairman).
makeITfair has today launched a new post card action, calling upon mobile phone providers including Vodafone and T-Moible to offer their customers fair and green phones. In the press statement, makeITfair refers to the situation at Foxconn.
In Berlin, civil society organisations, including GermanWatch and WEED, have distributed white roses at Saturn Market, an electronics retailer that is part of MediaMarkt. Metro Group, a big retailer that recently signed a contract with Foxconn about catering to the the Chinese market, is also addressed.
As You Sow and other US social investor groups are developing an investor statement on Foxconn.
Under pressure, Foxconn has announced a salary increase of 70%. This increase is welcomed by labour activists, but the announcement is still surrounded by many questions. Reportedly, the increase will be effective from October 1st, 2010. It is not clear if the announced increase will cover all 300.000 workers at the Longhua plant. Foxconn mentioned that workers will have to pass a three-month review period before they are qualified for the October raise. The wage increase is not the result of negotiations between the Foxconn manmagement and representatives of the Longhua workers, but was unilaterally announced by the company. The most painful element of this announced wage increase if of course that it came about only after the tragic deaths of 11 workers. “While overtime work was always voluntary, this wage increase will reduce overtime work as a personal necessity,” the Foxconn statement reportedly said.This is a telling remark, as it implicitly means that in the current situation wages are indeed too low to allow for a decent living. Moreover, as SACOM also points out, workers in China do not enjoy effective protection from getting fired if they’d refuse overtime.
Foxconn has made contact with SACOM. Preparations are under way for a first face-to-face meeting which is tentatively scheduled for next week.
Brand name companies sourcing at Foxconn such as Apple, Nokia, Dell, HP, Nintendo and SonyEricsson have stated to be in touch with Foxconn and to be keen to investigate the suicides. Further details about the terms and the planning of such investigations and audits have, however, not yet been made public. HP made contact with SACOM – possible a phone conference will be scheduled next week. Today, SACOM published an open letter to Apple, addressing Steve Jobs and calling for a comprehensive, independent investigation into Foxconn’s management systems to determine their connection to the suicides among Foxconn’s employees. Apple should swiftly reform its purchasing practices to support workers’ rights, by ensuring the true costs of labour are reflected in the unit prices paid. Apple has not yet responded to this open letter.
Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), the sustainability initiative initiative of the global electronics industry, has announced to set up a task force to look into employee well being and the mental health situation of the Foxconn workers. SACOM as well as the GoodElectronics network were contacted to give input. Referring to the June 1st statement with makeITfair, GoodElectronics again pointed out that rather than treating the symptoms, the root causes should be dealt with.
SACOM, with support of GoodElectronics, is calling for the reorganisation of the workplace union through democratic elections by well-informed workers at Foxconn. SACOM is calling upon EICC to facilitate this. SACOM aims to involve network mainland Chinese universities and local NGOs to design a training & election plan,.