Foxconn Labor Issues Continue. And will Only continue to continue

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 16:33

I know I am running a couple weeks behind on this one, but many of you probably heard the news that Foxconn had another incident. An incident that involved 2,000 employees, 5,000 police, and a security guard.  A security guard that reportedly hit a line worker, which then turned into a full on riot.

As reported by the PandoDaily Post: What Really Went Down in the Foxconn Riot

The clash started when a worker from Shandong Province got into an altercation with security, who then dragged him to a van and beat him up. Intent on revenge, his co-workers from Shandong, with the assistance of the workers from Henan, took the fight right back at the security guards.

Which resulted in more than 5,000 police being brought in to break up the fight, 40 hospitalized, buildings torn apart, and a factory shut down for a day and a half. Which all in all isn’t all that bad considering last year Foxconn had two other factories blow up, but it was a sign that even with all the press coverage and the FLA sending in a team for a month that problems still remain.

Hon Hai Riot Shows Squeeze on Chinese Manufacturers

To combat rising costs and worker attrition, Hon Hai has been moving its factories inland from the more expensive Chinese coasts.

But the pliant first-generation migrant workers that staffed factories a decade ago have become more savvy about their rights and willing to stand up for them. The second generation that has joined them on the factory floor are better educated and more plugged in.

For me the most important quote being:

“Younger workers are definitely more aware of their rights and more demanding,” said Geoff Crothall, a China Labour Bulletin spokesman. “They want more out of life than simply earning minimum wage.”

Just another day on the Foxconn campus, and I am sure that statistically this event is “insignificant” given the fact that there are 40,000 employees on that campus (over a million total in Foxconn). No one died.  Nothing exploded.  It only lasted a day in the press.  And the Apple iPhone5 line was only down for a day.

meh.

Over the last 5 years I have been following Foxconn’s issues, one thing has remained clear to me is that meeting the minimum legal requirements is simply not enough.  something Foxconn barely does, and while the world has seen (and focused on) issues of wages, underage labor, and overtime, Foxconn is able act as as if these issues are “normal” in the industry.

The problem is that wages and overtime are really secondary to the conditions on the floor, the abusive community that Foxconn has fostered, and the changing expectations of laborers on site. for many of the line workers on Foxconn’s floor, because there is no future with Foxconn…. there is no up.. only out… many are looking only to bank as much as they can before the move onto the next job.  Or perhaps, if they have saved enough move home.  While, unlike in previous generations of migrant workers, is not actually back to the village or farm, but to an outlying district of a 1st or 2nd tier city where they wish to build their future.

Which is core to the issue. That, while labor used to be happy with an “experience” that would provide enough money to support their family at home and provide for a comfortable lifestyle once they returned, the new generation is looking for more.   They are not willing to eat bitterness in the same way because their goal posts are different, and set along different time horizons.  They are not interested in having their hours cut, because they now have to buy a house in the city.  They are under higher levels of pressure to get married earlier, thanks to the gender in-balance, which creates a higher level of anxiety. They understand their “rights” as afforded by “laws”, and when breaches occur they are likely to take to the streets faster.  And in higher numbers.

Which is to say that as long as Foxconn, and any one external to the shop floor, believes that wages and hours are the core issues, they are essentially guaranteeing continued labor strife that will only continue to create problems for Foxconn going forward.  Problems that are likely to grow in size, as validated by the fact that 5,000 police were required to settle a dispute this time, and will offer up more risk to anyone that is working with Foxconn.

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