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iPhone maker treated workers like 'machines': labour group

Sydney Morning Herald | May 4, 2011
Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn treats its workers like "machines", a Hong Kong-based labour group said after a survey based on interviews with the firm's workers in mainland China.
Workers are seen inside a Foxconn factory in the township of Longhua in the southern Guangdong province.

Workers are seen inside a Foxconn factory in the township of Longhua in the southern Guangdong province. Photo: Reuters

Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn treats its workers like "machines", a Hong Kong-based labour group said after a survey based on interviews with the firm's workers in mainland China.

At least 13 Foxconn employees died in apparent suicides last year, which labour rights activists blamed on tough working conditions in a case that highlighted the challenges faced by millions of Chinese factory workers.

The group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) said Foxconn's employees were forced to work excessive overtime with "military-styled training".

"SACOM is startled by the dire working conditions," the group said in its report - based on interviews with 120 Foxconn workers in March and April - given to AFP ahead of its release on Saturday.

SACOM said many Foxconn employees worked 80 to 100 hours of overtime a month on top of their regular 174 hours, which the report said was more than three times China's legal limit.

"Most of the workers yearn for more overtime work because the basic salary is not enough for survival," said SACOM, which said the workers earn as little as $US200 a month.

The group also claimed workers were made to skip meal breaks during a typical 10-hour daily shift while new employees had to undergo "military training", which they dismissed as "nonsense".

"The content of the military training is merely standing. A supervisor will ask dozens of workers [to] line up in discipline and form a square. Workers are required to stand still as a soldier for hours," the report said.

Any mistake at work resulted in harsh punishment, the report said, with some workers forced to write a "confession letter" read out to their colleagues.

Foxconn declined to directly comment on the labour group's claims, but promised an investigation into the alleged mistreatment if "the authors of the report in question can provide us with specific information".

"Our policies and practices are regularly audited by our customers and their consultants, by government officials and by our own teams," Foxconn said in a statement to AFP, noting any violations of the law "are immediately addressed".

"Our company policy also requires that all management and supervisory staff treat our employees with the highest level of respect and we have formal grievance procedures that all employees can use," the firm added.

Foxconn is the world's largest maker of computer components and produces items for Apple, Sony and Nokia. It employs about one million workers in China, about half of them based in its main facility in Shenzhen.

The string of suicides prompted Foxconn to roll out a series of measures including safety nets outside buildings, wage hikes and a morale-boosting rally for its workers.

But critics have rejected the measures as a largely cosmetic bid to gloss over working conditions at the firm's plants.

"It is hypocritical that Foxconn hires a number of counsellors, opens up care centres and launches hotline service for workers [after] the spate of suicides, but impose[s] harsh management on workers at the same time.

"Workers are not allowed to talk on production line and they always feel they resemble machines," the 20-page report added.

Foxconn has been expanding its workforce in central China as it seeks to scale back the size of its Shenzhen plant and maintain production while cutting maximum overtime hours.



 

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