Desperate Chinese are turning to mass suicide to get their government’s attention

by Robert Foyle Hunwick

BEIJING, China — The location was chosen for maximum impact: a downtown boulevard, famous for Beijing’s swankiest shops and its plushest hotels. Studded with these symbols of Western capitalist chic, Wangfujing Shopping Street could hardly be further from the more desperate concerns of rural China.

It was here that a group of about 30 men gathered on a warm spring morning and, in front of hundreds of shoppers, swallowed a quantity of pesticide. They fell to the ground en masse and, according to several eyewitnesses, foamed at the mouth.

As the men were rushed to hospital, startled crowds spread the news on social media, while the scene quickly returned to normal. Police issued a statement later that day that none had died; local reports explained they were taxi drivers from the northeast, who’d traveled to the capital to stage the protest. And there the official narrative ended.

But the fate of the men, and the extreme means of airing their grievance, reflects a tactic of last resort that’s far from uncommon. For some in China, suicide is the ultimate form of protest.

In Tibet, a cycle of clampdowns and radicalization, which began with a widespread uprising that embarrassed the government in 2008, has led to nearly 140 self-immolations in the last six years. These acts are prompted by fury at the repressive tactics of Chinese officials, according to Tibetan exile groups. The government says such acts are examples of “the Dalai Lama clique” exploiting vulnerable youths, blaming “forces abroad” that are “all aimed at separating Tibet from China.” Among the most recent was Yeshi Khando, a nun in her 40s, who set herself ablaze near a monastery in Sichuan province in early April. She is reported to have died. The fate of those who survive such protests is thought to be equally grim.

On the surface, Tibetan monks and disgruntled cabbies may not have much in common. Yet both groups were driven to abandon rational means, inflicting agonizing acts of self-harm to bring attention to their cause. The anthropologist Margery Wolf once observed of suicidal women in Mao’s era that, “In the West, we ask of suicide, ‘Why?’ In China, the question is more commonly ‘Who?’”

Tibetans-in-exile take part in a candlelight vigil following the self-immolation attempt by a monk to protest against Chinese rule in Tibet on Feb. 13, 2013.
Getty Images

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Despite Claims of Progress, Labor and Environmental Violations Continue to Plague Apple

bad apple

by Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan


 

 

 

 

For many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites. (Photo: Annette Bernhardt)

Though Apple claims that 2014 was “a year of progress,” reports from labor rights groups and researchers reveal troubling labor and environmental violations continue unabated.

Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period.

For Apple, this is a great start to 2015, just as 2014 was a fantastic year for the company. Last year, they sold more than 169 million iPhones(1) which earned them nearly $102 billion in sales. With $183 billion in total 2014 revenue, and $39.5 billion in profit, (2) Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

But for many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Reports from China Labor Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), and evidence gathered by researchers Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai detail a litany of labor law violations at numerous factories across China. Troublingly, this evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites.

At these sites, workers logged as much as 15 hours per day, and worked for 10 weeks without a day of rest in advance of the launch of the iPhone 6 in September 2014.

These findings are contrary to claims made by Apple in its latest Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, released February 11, 2015. On its website, Apple refers to 2014 as “a year of progress,” explaining in the report that it conducted 633 audits of 459 suppliers, at which it found 700 violations of the company’s supplier code of conduct. In response, Apple claims to have put corrective action plans in place for all violations, and reports that compliance of suppliers improves with every audit. Yet, Apple provides no evidence of which suppliers were audited, what violations were found where, what specifically the company did about them and whether the problems were actually corrected.

Conversely, reports from CLW, SACOM and Chan and her colleagues provide clear evidence of a lack of corrective action from 2013 to 2014 on both the part of Apple and several of its suppliers, including Pegatron, Jabil, Catcher Electronics and Foxconn. Through undercover investigation on Apple product lines, SACOM and CLW found that violations of Chinese labor law and Apple’s supplier code of conduct are commonplace. These include work hours in excess of daily and weekly limits, managerially and economically forced overtime, workplace safety hazards including locked fire exits and blocked pathways, underpayment or lack of payment of social and medical insurance for dispatch and student workers, lack of special labor protections for student workers, regular intimidation and verbal abuse, inability to take sick leave or resign with pay, and no opportunity for collective bargaining and meaningful address of worker concerns.

SACOM documented these problems at three Pegatron facilities – Maintek Computer, Cotek Electronics and Casetek Computer – all in Suzhou, China. At these sites, workers logged as much as 15 hours per day, and worked for 10 weeks without a day of rest in advance of the launch of the iPhone 6 in September 2014. These workers were responsible for 25 million units of the new device – half of Apple’s 2014 inventory (Foxconn produced the rest). These conditions resulted in workers suffering crippling fatigue and numbness in limbs, fainting from the extreme heat on production lines and passing out from exhaustion during their very brief meal breaks.

Many of the same problems were documented by CLW at Catcher Electronics during a 2014 undercover investigation of a production line for iPad parts. Just as at Pegatron, the many violations of Chinese labor law and Apple’s code of conduct documented by CLW had been previously reported to Apple in 2013. Yet, 16 months later, none of the reported problems had been addressed, and in fact, many more had arisen.

Blocked Fire Exits and Lack of Safety Training, Equipment Endanger Workers

In addition to the problems of excessive daily hours, limited rest, forced overtime and exhaustion documented at Pegatron, CLW also found that there was a lack of safety training and inadequate or lacking protective equipment for workers handling potentially hazardous chemicals, which resulted in workers experiencing eye irritation and itchy, swollen and peeling skin. And, in an eerie echo of the conditions that caused an explosion on an iPad production line at Foxconn in May 2011, resulting in four deaths and injury to 18 others, CLW found that the workshops are thick with flammable aluminum-magnesium alloy dust. They report:

The violations concerning worker health and safety, especially in regard to emergency preparedness, cannot be overstated. Electronics manufacturing, particularly metal cutting as is performed in Catcher, is very chemical intensive and creates significant fire hazards. To address the violations in the Catcher factory, it is imperative that workers receive safety training and protective equipment for handling hazardous substances, and that the factory has controls in place to prevent disasters. Locked safety exits and the failure to conduct fire drills, especially when working with explosive dust (which frequently fills the air), put thousands of workers lives at risk in the case of an emergency. (3)

Unregulated exposure to the chemicals used in producing iPad parts at this facility can cause serious health problems. According to the US Department of Labor’sOccupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines on metalworking fluids, “Skin and airborne exposures to [metalworking fluids] have been implicated in health problems including irritation of the skin, lungs, eyes, nose and throat. Conditions such as dermatitis, acne, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, and a variety of cancers have been associated with exposure to [metalworking fluids].” In addition, those exposed to aluminum dust areat risk of developing problems with their lungs and nervous system.

“Locked safety exits and the failure to conduct fire drills, especially when working with explosive dust (which frequently fills the air), put thousands of workers lives at risk in the case of an emergency.”

CLW reported the same pattern of unaddressed and new problems during 2014 at the US-owned Jabil Circuit factory in Wuxi, China, which produces covers for the iPhone 6. Though employees work as much as 11 hours per day for six or even seven days a week during peak production periods, and accrue as much as 158 overtime hours per month (four times the legal limit), they still do not earn the average local wage in Wuxi. Just as for workers at Pegatron facilities, the low wages they are paid make the excessive overtime a forced condition, as they have no choice but to accept it in order to survive.

Workers at Jabil also reported feeling unsafe, given that some of their workshops were under construction. Ceiling tiles routinely crashed down, and the floors were slippery with oil and dirty water. On being moved to an under-construction production line, one of the undercover workers noted, “Everybody was afraid to work at this place. But even though we were worried about our safety, we did not have a choice.” (4)

Apple did not respond to questions about what, if any, corrective actions it and its suppliers may have taken in response to CLW and SACOM reports of labor violations at Pegatron facilities, Catcher Electronics and Jabil Wuxi during 2013 and 2014.

Problems at Foxconn Persist Despite Years of Media Scrutiny

Meanwhile, at Foxconn facilities, which received quite a bit of media attention following 18 worker suicides in 2010, research conducted by Chan and her colleagues found that the modest gain of slightly raised wages is routinely outweighed by increased production quotas on Apple product lines. They also found that though Foxconn promised to let workers unionize, the unions the company sanctioned are actually designed to increase surveillance of workers, with management-appointed leaders reporting worker dissent back up the chain of command.

In February 2014, Jacky Haynes, senior director of Apple’s supplier responsibility program, said, “We have recently reviewed and strengthened our standards regarding freedom of association.” (5) Yet, as of the publication of this article a year later, union reforms through democratic elections have not happened.

Forced overtime was imposed on Foxconn assembly workers during the peak Apple season (September to December 2014) to the extent of 152 hours of overtime a month, far exceeding the statutory limit in Chinese law of 36 hours.

This and other problems continue at Foxconn facilities, despite Apple’s partnership with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an industry-created body that Apple paid “well into six figures” for their auditing services during 2012 and 2013. The FLA audited Foxconn facilities on Apple’s behalf and released a series of reports during that time, with a final report in December 2013indicating that Apple and Foxconn had effectively addressed nearly all labor issues found across three facilities in Guanlan, Longhua and Chengdu.

However, Chan and her colleagues found that the FLA’s report on the employment of student interns at Foxconn Chengdu contradicted their own investigation. FLA reported that there were no student interns at Chengdu at the same time that Chan and her colleagues documented 7,000 of them from September 2011 to January 2012 – approximately 10 percent of the labor force – by interviewing the students and their teachers.

Despite Apple’s stipulation that student interns should always be engaged in work that furthers their studies and career goals, Chan and her colleagues, and CLW and SACOM, found that Apple suppliers regularly rely on the forced participation of students who gain no experience relevant to their fields of study on production lines. They simply serve as cheaper, more controllable versions of their slightly older, non-student counterparts.

Further, in February 2015, Beijing-based All-China Federation of Trade Unions legal department head Guo Jun criticized Foxconn for imposing illegal overtime of “more than ten hours every day” on workers. In fact, forced overtime was imposed on Foxconn assembly workers during the peak Apple season (September to December 2014) to the extent of 152 hours of overtime a month, far exceeding the statutory limit in Chinese law of 36 hours.

Apple’s Pricing Policy and Production Schedule Are to Blame

Though Apple displaces responsibility for these conditions onto its suppliers, Chan and her colleagues have soundly documented across a dozen Foxconn sites in China that it is precisely Apple’s pricing structure, intensely demanding production schedule and practice of pitting suppliers like Pegatron and Foxconn against each other that produces the conditions described here.

“Any supplier improving labor conditions will be in a disadvantaged position,” Li Qiang, CLW’s executive director, wrote in an email to Cole. (6)

Apple punished Foxconn for its modest improvement to wages by taking a significant portion of iPhone production away from the company, and rewarded Pegatron for routinely breaking numerous Chinese labor laws with those very contracts over two years’ time.

CLW backs Qiang’s claim with an analysis of the cost of production at Pegatron versus Foxconn, which shows that Apple shifted production to Pegatron facilities after wages were raised at Foxconn’s Longhua site, following the 2010 worker suicides and subsequent protests. CLW found that at Pegatron Shanghai alone Apple saved $61 million in just one year over the cost of labor at Foxconn. (7) The cost savings come directly from lower pay for the hundreds of hours of forced overtime that workers log during peak production periods. (8)

This finding flies in the face of Apple’s oft-repeated claims, in its supplier responsibility reports and in the press, that it takes the harder path of working with suppliers to improve conditions for workers, and that it hands down sanctions to suppliers who are found to be in serious violation of its code of conduct. Essentially doing the opposite of what it claims to do, Apple punished Foxconn for its modest improvement to wages by taking a significant portion of iPhone production away from the company, and rewarded Pegatron for routinely breaking numerous Chinese labor laws with those very contracts over two years’ time.

“Conflict-Free” Yet Loaded With Controversy

2014 also saw continued problems in the mining operations that feed into Apple products. Apple celebrates its involvement in the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI), run by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), but the EICC is an industry-operated body of only corporate members biased toward its clients.

“The EICC’s reputation is not great,” Julian Kirby of London-based Friends of the Earth told Truthout. Describing EICC events he has attended, Kirby said, “[They’re] characterized by defensiveness, a sense of how to manage the problems, and how do you manage the appearance – the PR of the problems, rather than how do we make stuff better.”

Kirby explained that EICC members will tout things like building schools and hospitals in producer communities, “rather than looking at transparency problems and people dying in mines and suppliers,” and working toward “systemic changes.” He concluded, “The tech sector and the EICC, the culture there is years behind other sectors. They’ve got a long way to go.”

Kirby is also critical of the limited focus of the EICC’s CFSI, which, he points out, is limited to conflict in the sense of war. As such, the CFSI overlooks devastating forms of conflict including ecological destruction, destruction of fishing and agriculture industries, pollution of water, injury and death in mines, and forced evictions.

research team lead by Kirby documented all of this in Bangka, Indonesia, in 2012. The report called on Apple to admit that its suppliers source tin from this devastated island, and that it is culpable in the atrocities documented there. After much pressure from Friends of the Earth, Apple did admit this a year later, and spearheaded the Tin Working Group to assess and address the problems found by Friends of the Earth.

Kirby gives Apple credit for creating this group, but points out that, nearly three years later, nothing has changed for the residents of Bangka, who live on what he describes as a depleted “moonscape” surrounded by a dead coral reef, and where on average one miner dies per week in an accident. Rather than scaling back their destruction of this island community, Kirby reports that the large mining operators are now ramping up their offshore efforts, which will only further pollute the once pristine water and continue to destroy fisheries.

Change Will Follow Real Transparency and Collaboration With Labor Rights Groups

All of this evidence suggests that Apple’s internally managed model of corporate social responsibility does not work. The company’s slick publications, and claims in the press and on its website contribute to the value and power of its $118 billion brand, but do not foster systemic change in its troubled supply chain. That change will only come with real transparency in terms of how the company’s products are made, how specifically Apple works with suppliers to fix problems and the results of those efforts.

Real change could come if Apple stuck by those suppliers that make improvements, as it claims to, rather than shoving them aside to cut costs. As CLW points out, raising wages for workers at Pegatron facilities to make them equivalent to the average local wage would compromise just 10 percent of Apple’s quarterly profit. (9)

Further, SACOM and CLW urge Apple to make good on its promise to support worker unionization by providing labor rights training via independent labor rights groups, which could ensure effective workplace monitoring. At the least, companies such as Apple and Foxconn – the world’s largest electronics manufacturer – should observe national labor laws and regulations.

With the kind of financial power the tech giant has – earning on average three-fifths of the profits in this sector in 2014 – Apple really could make things better in this industry, and it has a responsibility to do so. (10)

Footnotes:

  1. See p. 30 in Apple’s Form 10-K filed with the SEC on October 27, 2014.
  2. Ibid. p. 48
  3. See p. 7-8 in “Two Year’s of Broken Promises” by CLW, September 4, 2014.
  4. See p. 13 in “iExploitation” by CLW, September 25, 2014.
  5. Email communique to Chan, Selden, and Pun, February 18, 2014.
  6. Email communique to Cole, February 11, 2015.
  7. See p. 2 in “Analyzing Labor Conditions of Pegatron and Foxconn,” by CLW, February 2015.
  8. Ibid. p. 8
  9. Ibid. p. 23.
  10. Ibid. p. 25.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

http://truth-out.org/news/item/29180-despite-claims-of-progress-labor-violations-and-environmental-atrocities-continue-to-plague-apple-s-supply-chain

JENNY CHAN

Jenny Chan (Ph.D. in 2014) is a lecturer in sociology at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford. Educated at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong, she was a Reid Research Scholar while pursuing her doctorate at the University of London. With Ngai Pun and Mark Selden as co-authors, she is writing her first book, provisionally titled Dying for an iPhone. Contact her at jenny.chan@area.ox.ac.ukand wlchan_cuhk@yahoo.com.

NICKI LISA COLE

Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D. is a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society in Graz, Austria. A sociologist with expertise in global capitalism and consumerism, she is currently writing a book about the popularity and hidden costs of Apple products. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and find more of her writing here. Contact her at nickilcole@gmail.com.

(See also Talking Union article on ACFTU and Foxconn )
 

Will the ACFTU Organize a Union at Foxconn?

by Paul Garver

apple_cook_china

Apple CEO Tim Cook visits an iPhone production line at a Foxconn facility in China in 2012.  Photo: Bloomberg

Officials of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) are not in the habit of criticizing major employers.

So when at a press conference in Beijing on February 2nd, Guo Jun, director of the ACFTU’s Legal Work Department, included Foxconn Technology in a list of companies who required their employees to work excessive overtime in violation of Chinese labor law, it caused a stir in the Chinese and foreign media.

Foxconn is not a mom-and-pop company.  It is the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, the largest private employer in China with 1.3 million workers, and ranks 30th on the Fortune listing of global companies by sales.   It produces over half of the electronic hardware in the world for Apple, HP and all the other major global branded electronics corporations.

Five years ago, as we frequently reported in Talking Union, a dozen young workers at Foxconn’s  giant assembly plant in Shenzhen ended their lives by leaping from the factory complex dormitories, protesting endless hours of mind-numbing repetitive toil.  Pro-worker NGOs in Hong Kong and China leapt into action, documenting widespread abuses at Foxconn, and demanding that Apple, its largest customer, hold its supplier to improving wages and working conditions.  They also pointed out that the chronic abuses at the chief supplier are a product of Apple’s squeezes and unethical buying practices, and the Chinese governments’ support to large investors, at the sacrifice of workers’ rights and even their lives. As protests spread, both in Greater China and elsewhere, Apple agreed to require inspections of three Foxconn factories (out of more than 30) in China by the Fair Labor Association(FLA) in 2012 and 2013.

More significantly Foxconn decided to locate its major new factories deeper in the interior of China where wages were lower and the supply of laborers closer to hand.  Another huge factory complex was constructed in less than a year in Chengdu (capital of Sichuan province), informally called iPad City for its major product.  When several workers were killed by an explosion of aluminum dust caused by management negligence on 20 May 2011, security officers rushed to the hospitals to prevent any protests or media coverage.  But vigilant networks of Chinese and Hong Kong students and workers publicized the event and a similar explosion at another Shanghai-based Apple supplier seven months later.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA), no doubt in good faith (though well compensated for their efforts by Apple) has reported that Foxconn and Apple are in the process of drawing up an action plan to correct the most flagrant abuses at three major Foxconn factories, including ones in Shenzhen and Chengdu.  The final FLA report was completed and published online in December 2013 – it did not end serious violations such as illegal overtime; in other words, it does not go beyond good public relations for Apple. As of this writing on 10 February 2015, we were still waiting for Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Progress Report.

Unfortunately for Apple, Foxconn and the FLA a growing network of worker and student activists within China has been investigating in depth a much wider range of Foxconn facilities throughout China, and finding that excessive overtime and serious health and safety violations remain endemic.  One item completely overlooked by FLA investigators was the wholesale exploitation of some 7000 “student interns” for repetitive assembly work at Chengdu, when a major order from Apple had to be quickly filled in late 2011 to early 2012 [ Aditya Charabotty, 14 October 2013, “Forced student labor is central to the Chinese economic miracle,” The Guardian]. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/14/forced-student-labour-china-apple

Beginning in the fall of 2014, Apple sales of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone6Plus surged, to reach some 74.5 million in the last quarter of 2014.  Even though Foxconn is itself a highly integrated and diversified electronics manufacturer, it remains heavily dependent on Apple (for 40% of its total sales).  When Apple demanded maximum production of the new iPhones at maximum speed, Foxconn responded. According to extensive reports by Shenzhen worker and student activists (on a site called in English iLabour) mandatory overtime was imposed on Foxconn assembly workers during the peak Apple season (September to December 2014) to the extent of 152 hours overtime a month on top of the standard 40 hour work week (plus 9 hours of overtime whenever appropriate).    This meant on average one rest day a month (whereas at last one day of rest per week is required by law), with every other day of the month dedicated to 10 hour shifts of the most routine and monotonous assembly tasks.  This far exceeds the statutory limit in Chinese law of 36 hours overtime per month.

Hence the comment by the ACFTU’s  Guo Jun, who reminded Foxconn that employees forced to work excessive overtime were susceptible to psychological problems including suicide, a deliberate echo of the 2010 suicide wave.

Foxconn responded angrily on February 3rd that the workers wanted the overtime to increase their income, and that the company provided professional counseling and support services 24/7 to help workers cope with these challenges.  The company claimed that these support services “are saving lives each and every day” (!).  It also taunted Guo Jun for never visiting the Foxconn factories criticized by the ACFTU.

A number of activists commented that it would not be a bad idea for the ACFTU official to actually visit factories and talk to workers.   What Guo Jun would find is that there is already a “union” at Foxconn, though no workers know that they are members of it.  The chair of the Foxconn union, since 2007 to the present, is Ms Chen Peng, a special assistant to Foxconn CEO Terry Gou.  She was appointed as Union Chair by Foxconn managerial appointment, with no election then or since.

Quoted in the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), Chang Kai, a highly respected professor at Renmin University’s labor and human resources school in Beijing, remarked:

“It’s a good thing that the ACFTU showed their attitude, but it’s just the first step.  Next, the union should suggest solutions. Foxconn doesn’t have a union chosen by workers at all.”

Five years on, will the ACFTU take the next step, and try to organize a real union at Foxconn?

I have made use over the last five years of extensive research conducted by SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior), a Hong Kong based NGO, in reporting on Foxconn workers in Talking Union.   As background for this article, I was graciously granted access to research by Jenny Chan, Pun Ngai and Mark Selden to be published in  2015 as “Apple’s iPad City: Subcontracting the Exploitation of Labour to China.” Ch. 5 in Handbook on the International Political Economy of Global Production, edited by Kees Van Der Pijl. [Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing].

‘Worse than Foxconn’–Apple’s supplier Pegatron Group

logoCLW(July 29, 2013) Today, China Labor Watch (CLW) published an investigative report detailing the labor violations of three factories of Pegatron Group, a major supplier to Apple. In 2013, Apple has increased its orders to these factories, which have benefitted from and relied upon labor violations to increase their competitive edge.

CLW’s investigations revealed at least 86 labor rights violations, including 36 legal violations and 50 ethical violations. The violations fall into 15 categories: dispatch labor abuse, hiring discrimination, women’s rights violations, underage labor, contract violations, insufficient worker training, excessive working hours, insufficient wages, poor working conditions, poor living conditions, difficulty in taking leave, labor health and safety concerns, ineffective grievance channels, abuse by management, and environmental pollution.

In short, the Pegatron factories are violating a great number of international and Chinese laws and standards as well as the standards of Apple’s own social responsibility code of conduct. Continue reading

Labor Wins—in China

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Is China moving ahead of the United States on worker rights? According to a report on Monday’s Financial Times, it may be doing just that.

The FT reports that Foxconn, which employs 1.2 million Chinese workers who make the bulk of Apple’s products, along with those of Nokia, Dell and other tech companies, has decided to allow its workers to hold elections to select their union leaders. This is a radical departure from past practice in China, where unions are run by the government—that is, the Communist Party—which customarily selects the union leaders. Often, the leaders selected under this system are actually the plant managers.

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Large-Scale Strike Paralyzes Production of Apple iPhone5 at Zhengzhou Factory

by Li Qiang, Executive Director
China Labor Watch

October 5, 2012

Breaking News:

Photograph: Ye Fudao/ Foxconn worker

(New York) China Labor Watch (CLW) announced that at 1:00PM on October 5 (Beijing time), a strike occurred at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory that, according to workers, involved three to four thousand production workers. In addition to demanding that workers work during the holiday, Foxconn raised overly strict demands on product quality without providing worker training for the corresponding skills. This led to workers turning out products that did not meet standards and ultimately put a tremendous amount of pressure on workers. Additionally, quality control inspectors fell into to conflicts with workers and were beat up multiple times by workers. Factory management turned a deaf ear to complaints about these conflicts and took no corrective measures. The result of both of these circumstances was a widespread work stoppage on the factory floor among workers and inspectors.

The majority of workers who participated in this strike were workers from the OQC (onsite quality control) line. According to workers, multiple iPhone 5 production lines from various factory buildings were in a state of paralysis for the entire day.  It was reported that factory management and Apple, despite design defects, raised strict quality demands on workers, including indentations standards of 0.02mm and demands related to scratches on frames and back covers. With such demands, employees could not even turn out iPhones that met the standard. This led to a tremendous amount of pressure on workers. On top of this, they were not permitted to have a vacation during the holiday. This combination of factors led to the strike.

That quality control inspectors would also strike is of no surprise. According to workers, there was a fight between workers and quality control inspectors in area K that led to the damage in inspection room CA, the injury of some people, and the hospitalization of others. After this, another similar incident occurred in area K, once again leading to quality control inspectors getting beaten up. Yesterday, inspectors in area L received physical threats. When inspectors reported these issues to factory management, the management simply ignored and turned their back on the issue. For these reasons, all day and night shift inspectors carried out a work stoppage today that paralyzed the production lines.

This strike is simply because these workers just have too much pressure.

A recent article in Talking Union documents, based on investigative research by China Labor Watch and by SACOM, the extremely harsh working conditions under which the Apple iPhone5 has been rushed into massive production at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory, where the strike just occurred.  An article posted earlier today reports on the causes of a major riot at another Foxconn factory in Taiyuan where the iPhone5 is also being produced.  Talking Union has also recently posted a background article on how Chinese workers and students are confronting global capitalism at Foxconn, the major link in Apple’s global supply chain.

About China Labor Watch:

Founded in 2000, China Labor Watch is an independent not-for-profit organization. In the past ten years, CLW has collaborated with labor organizations and the media to conduct a series of in-depth assessments of factories in China that produce toys, bikes, shoes, furniture, clothing, and electronics for some of the largest companies. CLW’s New York office creates reports from these investigations, educates the international community on supply chain labor issues, and pressures corporations to improve conditions for workers.

Why Foxconn Workers Rioted in Taiyuan

by Paul Garver

Militarized Security at Taiyuan Foxconn Plant Provokes Riot

During the night of 23-24 September, several thousand assembly workers outfought security guards, overturned police vehicles and damaged company property outside a giant Foxconn factory producing the Apple iPhone5 at Taiyuan in north central China.

Foxconn claimed the riot was a mere dormitory scuffle between workers from two different provinces, but hundreds of photos showing the dramatic actions in the streets outside the factory flooded Chinese Internet sites (most subsequently deleted by government censors).  It required the intervention of some 5000 armed paramilitary forces to put down the rebellion.

The dormitory incident that triggered the riot led to the severe beating of workers by Foxconn security guards (sub-contracted thugs), prompting fellow workers to resist and eventually send the guards into flight.  The militaristic security guards are universally detested by Foxconn workers, who demolished security posts and vehicles during the riot.

Rioting is not the most sophisticated or organized form of collective worker resistance.  But it represents a major step forward from the wave of individual worker suicides of Foxconn workers in 2010.  Workers from other Foxconn plants in Henan, Shandong and Shenzhen provinces posted letters on China’s online forms praising the Taiyuan workers for their courage.
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