Foxconn: Labour exploitation behind the glittering techs

Fardeen Kabir | Monday, 27 June 2022

The tech industry is one of the most dynamic, progressive, and flamboyant industries in the world. The latest techs that drive us crazy are not only the symbols of new technological feats but they are also regarded as status symbols around the world. Our iPhones and AirPods are meant to represent a certain level of aesthetics along with their core utilities.

Yet, behind all the extravagance and dynamism of the tech world, the workers who make the devices are often victims of massive worker exploitation and corporate greediness.

If you happen to own devices of Apple, Samsung, HP, or any of the renowned tech giants, it is highly likely that those devices were at least partially manufactured by Foxconn.

Foxconn is the largest electronic device manufacturer in the world, home to the device manufacturing of almost all the biggest tech companies in the world.

According to a report from Global Times, just the Zhengzhou plant employs up to 350000 workers. And this massive company that makes the devices of our everyday indulgence, is home to all sorts of worker exploitation.

Foxconn’s bad employee practices first caught global attention in 2010, when 15 Foxconn employees attempted suicide inside the working facility, with 10 passing away immediately. How bad could the situation be that employees were committing group suicide?

It turned out that this was not new, there were previous suicide reports at Foxconn, and the suicide attempts were just the frustrated response of the fed-up workers facing immense pressure from the establishments for little remuneration.

Workers eat and sleep in the factory dorms and they are not allowed to go outside except for 1 day a week. The workers were also working more than 100 hours of overtime in a month.

The worker supervision is done in a military-style, there is no such thing as work-life balance, and workers were ill-treated. It was also alleged that Foxconn was not paying their workers their correct over-time remuneration.

The 2010 suicides did force Apple and other big clients of Foxconn to look into the worker rights matter at the workspace, and Foxconn subsequently put on ‘Anti suicide nets’ around their factory building as a part of their ‘initiative’ to improve working conditions.

A decade later, it hasn't changed much at Foxconn. Apple and Foxconn were accused of a slew of labour infractions in a report produced by China Labour Watch, involving delaying bonus payments, rolling back safety courses, and hiring more temporary workers than China's labour laws allow. This was reported by an undercover investigation by China Labour Watch.

In another audit of Amazon, they found out that Foxconn was employing more agency workers than was allowed by the law, all to minimise the production costs by underpaying the workers compared to regular overtime payments.

Some interviews with former employees also revealed that the toxic work culture hasn’t changed much, the supervisors treat the workers harshly for the most minor inconveniences. Also, the higher-ups were accused of not delivering the bonus payments for overtime that they promised.

In a documentary named ‘Complicit,' it was shown that several workers were diagnosed with Leukemia after getting repeatedly exposed to the chemicals, especially Benzene, that were being used to manufacture iPhones.

In 2012, Foxconn was also accused of worker and labour-hour exploitation, underage worker hiring, and providing poor living conditions to the employees.

Foxconn is the prime example of a manufacturing monopoly and its consequences on labour exploitation. Most of the workers in their facilities are being paid less than 2 dollars per hour, yet there is no sign of wage increment as the workers cannot find alternative jobs due to their already poor living standards and lack of options.

It is not very hard to see that the fun and sleek devices from the tech giants come at a human cost, and nothing substantial is being done to prevent that.

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