In what some media outlets are calling a "tiff," an uncertain number of workers in China reportedly threatened this week to jump to their deaths following a labour dispute with Foxconn.
Foxconn Technology Group is the company that Microsoft and Apple tap to manufacture the Xbox 360 and iPad - proof, I suppose, that money is no fanboy. If you ever noticed the "Made in China" stamp on your 360, it refers to a factory in Wuhan where Foxconn employees used to manufacture the console. Foxconn allegedly told its workers that the Microsoft contract would be moved to another location, and that's where the story gets muddy. Foxconn workers allege that they were initially offered a choice between severance and being "transferred," but then backed out of the severance option:
The workers climbed to the top of the six-storey dormitory on Jan. 3 and threatened to jump before Wuhan city officials persuaded them to desist and return to work, according to the workers and accounts online. The workers gave varying estimates of the numbers involved in the strike, from 80 to 200, and photos posted online showed dozens of people crowding the roof of the boxy concrete building.
Note that the report suggests these people live in a "dormitory," and were persuaded to not kill themselves but to "return to work" instead.
Read on, after the jump.
Meanwhile, Foxconn reportedly denies that it offered its employees severance, and that "only some" were offered transfers (there is no indication what, if anything, the other employees were offered); and while unnamed current employees of Foxconn stated that some of the strikers threatened to kill themselves, one employee who recently left the plant (which is reportedly run with "military-like discipline"), Wang Jungang, argues that "none of them were going to jump" but that the company and government officials were anxious about the "consequences" should one of them jump.
This is not the first time suicide has been an issue at Foxconn plants, which also produce products for Sony, Nintendo, Dell, and HP. In 2010, an over a dozen Foxconn employees attempted suicide by jumping, resulting in an estimated fourteen deaths. As with the current incident, exact numbers are difficult to pin down.
For it's part, Apple is stepping up its scrutiny of its suppliers, following the Foxconn controversies:
In the course of the 229 audits, Apple said it discovered several violations, including instances of underage labor at five facilities. Apple said it required the suppliers to support the young workers to return to school and to improve their management systems to add age-verification procedures. Apple also said it found instances of involuntary labor and stopped working with one of suppliers involved.
"Involuntary labour" is, like the term "unfree labour", a nice way of describing forms of labour from conscription, to serfdom, to slavery, so it is difficult to ascertain exactly the sort of labour violation that is being described in that report. Regardless, it's good to know that Apple is doing something to prevent involuntary labour from being a link in the chain that manufactures its products.
In response, Apple will now compel its suppliers - including Foxconn - to hold to the standards of the Fair Labor Association, which are themselves approved by the UN's International Labour Organization, which include audits of working conditions and third-party complaint systems. Of course, one wonders why every multinational tech giant hasn't always automatically demanded such standards of its suppliers and contractors.
According to Apple Insider, Foxconn has settled its current labour dispute. The site also offers a slightly different version of the dispute than is reported elsewhere, indicating that employees were upset over "dismal" working conditions and pay, and that:
An employee at the facility, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that over 100 of the 32,000 workers at the Wuhan campus had taken to the rooftop of a three-story campus building in a protest that lasted eight hours. Some of the disgruntled employees reportedly threatened to jump from the roof if the company failed to meet their demands.
The unnamed worker said that Foxconn promised a $450 per month salary including overtime pay as part of a deal for workers who were forced to relocate from the company's main factory in Shenzhen to Wuhan, but employees have received only two-thirds that amount and need to endure poor working conditions.
Of course, we'll have more as it arises.
[image via: Apple Insider]