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Workers Threaten To Jump From Roof Of Xbox 360 Manufacturing Plant In China

FoxconnWuhan.jpg

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]

7 Comments

Richard said:

Hal - You seem to have a strong opinion about this story, but only insinuate it through use of quotes and words like "supposedly." I can't tell what, exactly, you think about the working situation, the company or what not because there is some opinion interjected, but it's not clear what that opinion is and who or what it is directed toward.

In any case, I strongly believe that US manufacturers need to all take a very strong stance against the kinds of labor abuses we see in China and at Foxconn. It's at a point where Foxconn has installed nets on the side of their buildings to catch jumpers as a solution to the the suicide problems instead of correcting the worker abuses that cause individuals to assume the only way to fix their situation is to kill themselves.

The Chinese government doesn't help things though. They require that for any company to sell their products within China, a certain amount of that product must be made/assembled/produced in China itself. Every major company wants to sell in China. It's a huge market. But then they run in to issues like labor abuses and they threaten to pull out of the manufacturer, and the Chinese government steps in and says "sure, you can pull out, but go ahead an pull all your products off shelves in our country while you're at it."

hal said:

Richard,

First, thanks for your comments. I didn't know that for products to be sold in China part of it had to be produced somehow in China, and I found your comments to be quite insightful. Thank you.

As for my opinion on the story, I edited a great deal of my own opinion out because this isn't really an editorial, but mainly because the details aren't very clear. The more I read about the incident, in fact, the less clear the details became. Hence the heavy use of "reportedly," "allegedly," "supposedly," and so on. The worst-case reading of this story is pretty dismal - that these people have little financial security, poor living and working conditions, and are distressed enough that some consider suicide as a way out. But there is no certainty that that's actually the whole story.

Robert, I felt that the worst thing I could do with a story like this would be to do the stenographer thing and just re-write what other people have written. I write a lot of stuff about new Minecraft releases, market analysis, and so on; interesting stuff, but no one's life is at stake. This story is about people's lives. I felt I had to balance writing critically with writing fairly, while avoiding allowing my (very strong) opinions about labourer rights from muddying the waters more than they already are.

NitsudR said:

The fact that this is an issue, in the hobby I have loved since I can remember as a child, has me sick to my stomach. Times were much simpler as a child. Although i believe this is the beauty of the Internet, I truly think its humanities only hope. Information leads to awareness of this bullshit, and hopefully change can come, we truly do hold power in numbers. Corporations grip on our lives is becoming tighter and tighter day by day, something has to give. This is why things like SOPA are extremely dangerous. Scary world we live in.

/endrant

Richard said:

Hal - I hear you. While this story is muddy, there has been quite a few stories about the working conditions in these specific Foxconn factories. But I think that the worst case scenario you discribed in your comment is pretty likely true.

Admittedly, I'm sure you can find some workers who are satisfied with their working conditions as they are at least better than absolute poverty. Then again, you could say the same about pre-union Industrial Revolution America.

I appreciate the journalistic, agnostic approach to the story though, especially considering it wasn't a direct opinion piece.

If I may offer a bit of (unasked for and probably unwarranted) advice, perhaps references to supposed or reported events or story bits you are unsure of reporting as fact could be reported as "according to XYZ source, ... occurred." It just pulls the opinion out of your lap a bit and suggests that this is one sources information, and not necessarily a shared perspective. For example:

"According to TheStar.com, Foxconn told its workers that Microsoft..."

Perhaps it's nitpicky, and perhaps I've had one too many brunch mimosas, but to me that sounds better than using an opinion-laden word like "allegedly."

OK, I'll leave it alone now. I've probably inserted myself into more of a discussion on reporting form than I intended. HOWEVER, thank you for writing and bringing these stories to us here an gaygamer.net. I really appreciate the writing and the perspective all of your writers bring to us on a daily basis!

tropicofanatic said:

Jesus H Christ, the hell is wrong with people? Just pay them ten dollars more a day and their lives would be so much better. This fucking world is just disgusting and filled with greed, avarice, and hate.

Dehnus said:

Forming a Union is a 12 year fine there. Really.... and seeing the profits companies like Apple and MS make on a product this is really uncalled for.

Why not make the product in the region you are going to sell it. If manufactured in Asia.. sell it in Asia. If manufactured in the Americas.. sell it in the Americas.

Also stimulates the eocnomy of the region, rather then just the the CEO. Products might be a bit more expensive, but more people will be able to spend more money and thus stimulate the economy.

Ovir said:

I almost died (no pun intended) laughing:

"Workers Threaten To Jump From Roof..."
+
"Read on, after the jump."

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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