Last year, a spate of suicides brought the Taiwanese firm Foxconn, which makes iPhones for Apple, into disrepute. In a new report, a Hong Kong-based NGO says working conditions in the company's factories are deplorable.
Employees at Foxconn sometimes spend 14 hours a day on their feet
Across mainland China, there are hundreds and thousands of people employed to make cell phones, MP3 players and computers for the Taiwanese firm Foxconn, which supplies goods to renowned customers such as Nintendo, Intel, HP, Apple or Dell.
Their working conditions are terrible, according to a new survey by the Hong Kong-based NGO, Students & Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior, and have not necessarily improved since a series of suicides last year.
Labor activists say the buyers of iPhones should insist on better working conditions at Foxconn
For their report, SACOM researchers interviewed some 120 workers in March and April. Most were frontline workers, some were supervisors and a few belonged to middle management. Most were aged between 16 and 30.
Hours of overtime
They said that they usually had to do a great deal of overtime - between 80 and 100 hours a month on top of their regular 174 hours. Moreover, they were under a lot of pressure to meet extremely high targets.
"If they do not reach their targets," said Debby Chan from SACOM, "they have to go without eating until their shift is over."
She also said that the fact that many workers did not have adequate protection despite often coming into close contact with harmful chemicals meant that skin disease was on the rise.
There are 'anti-suicide' safety nets around accommodation for Foxconn workers
SACOM has criticized the "military" atmosphere that prevails in the factories. Instead of receiving appropriate training, new employees have to undergo a kind of military training that is intimidating and damaging to morale.
"If an employee makes a mistake or breaks a factory rule, he is punished. Some people have even had to confess to their mistakes in writing. Thus, if they commit the mistake again they have to read out their letters in front of hundreds of colleagues. This is one of the tactics used to humiliate employees."
Supervisors are also punished if those below them in the hierarchy make a mistake and this is why they are particularly strict. "Workers are not allowed to talk while working and they have to stand for at least 10 hours a day," explained Chan. And because of the wait for public transport or at the canteen, many ended up standing 14 hours a day.
The conditions drove at least 13 Foxconn employees to suicide last year. The media outcry prompted the company to raise wages and offer counseling to employees but Chan said management was "hypocritical."
"Foxconn has not revised its management methods," she said. According to the report, employees at Foxconn’s flagship plants in Longhua and Guanlan in Shenzhen are still housed in dormitories that are surrounded with "anti-suicide" nets.
Last year, 13 Foxconn employees committed suicide
Foxconn did not respond to a request by Deutsche Welle to conduct an interview. However, it has insisted in statements that there are guidelines for the treatment of workers that are regularly monitored.
"Our company policy requires that all management and supervisory staff treat our employees and interns with the highest level of respect and we have formal grievance procedures that all employees can use should they have any issues with any aspect of their treatment by anyone associated with Foxconn or any other matter related to their employment."
Debby Chan pointed out that not only should Foxconn bear responsibility for the well-being of its employees but that the customers buying goods from electronics giants such as Apple should also insist on working conditions being humane.
Author: Christoph Ricking/act
Editor: Ziphora Robina