Monthly Archives: June 2010

Inside a Foxconn sweatshop

Steve Jobs says Foxconn is a “pretty nice” place to work. If he thinks that will stand up to even a cursory examination of life for China’s industrial workers, he is kidding himself. And if he thinks that can shield Apple from a big hit to its fragile brand image he is also kidding himself.

There are decades of academic and NGO research on the horrific conditions faced by Chinese workers. And this report by Bloomberg makes clear that Foxconn is no exception.

I recall a meeting I had a few years ago (in Steve Jobs’ hometown Palo Alto no less where he said so callously the other day that Gunn High School kids commit suicide, too) with a visiting workers compensation lawyer from China. He described the thousands of Chinese workers who return to their rural villages minus eyes and limbs or suffering from neurological or respiratory diseases, all the result of working in plants like those managed by Apple/Dell/Sony subcontractors.

I thought at the time that he was describing something resembling the return of wounded soldiers after the American Civil War.

Apple should publicly call for an independent investigation of conditions in Valley subcontractors and support the formation of independent trade unions and the establishment of enforceable labor laws.

Inside a Foxconn factory.

Chinese workers revolt; Steve Jobs spins; Silicon Valley call to investigate labor conditions in China

images2On the 21st anniversary of the crushing of the Tienanmen Revolt of 1989, the Financial Times has taken official notice of what we have been following at Global Labor/King Harvest for several years: a virtually hidden uprising of Chinese workers.

In response to their editorial and an opinion piece by David Pilling that appeared yesterday, I sent in the following letter:


Independent and widely respected Chinese labour activist Han Dong Fang is surely correct, as a tactical matter, that it is important to take politics out of the new labour movement that you now recognize is emerging in China (David Pilling “Chinese labour is licensed to stake its claim”).  The “race to the bottom” has now hit bottom and Chinese industrial workers are taking matters into their own hands to correct the years of growing inequality in an economy built on their backs.

However, that does not mean as you concluded in your leader today (“Chinese workers are now in revolt”) which appears, perhaps coincidentally, on the anniversary date of the crushing of the Tiananmen Revolt of 1989, that “fundamental reform” is simply a matter of economic restructuring to rebalance the Chinese economy. Fundamentally, economic policy shifts will only be an outcome of political processes.

That is the reason that we in the West should reaffirm support for freedom of association, the most basic of human and labor rights, in China.  Only if Chinese workers, rural and urban, are free to organize independently of the government can the democratic institutions emerge that will insure that new economic policy indeed is fair and balanced.


Stephen F. Diamond

Also of interest is a letter that workers at the Honda plant forced the local ACFTU to send in defense of striking workers who were set upon by thugs, apparently dispatched by the ACFTU to break the strike. The strike was a success resulting in a big jump in wages, relatively speaking.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Steve Jobs has spoken in defense of Apple subcontractor Foxconn where a rash of suicides has led to global outrage and an attempt to boycott Apple. Jobs claims Foxconn is not in fact a sweatshop (“they have a swimming pool”) and, somewhat lamely, he tried to compare the worker suicides there to a rash of suicides by teenage high school students from Palo Alto’s Gunn High School.

Of course, Palo Alto, where Jobs lives, is one of the world’s wealthiest communities (just count the swimming pools) and while the Gunn suicides are a terrible phenomenon, to suggest that there are therefore no serious problems at Foxconn does not pass the smell test. In fact, Jobs rarely comments on these kinds of issues and that he has in this case makes clear that Apple is very concerned about the impact of the conditions at the subcontractor on its bottom line – as they should be.

Jobs argues that Apple is good at oversight of its factories. But it does not rely on enforceable labor law and legal trade unions which are the two necessary pillars of any safe and healthy workplace. And presumably Foxconn would not have raised its wages by 30% after the tenth worker committed suicide if it did not think it had a problem. Where was Apple’s oversight team before that worker had to give up his life?

In light of the naivete or malfeasance at work in the mindset of Silicon Valley managers I have asked the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was in touch with me recently about testifying, to hold a hearing here in the Valley about labor conditions at its Asian subcontractors.

Meanwhile you can support the Foxconn/Apple campaign here. / Comment / Editorial – Chinese workers are now in revolt.

A rare MSM spotlight on Han Dong Fang of China Labour Bulletin

imagesHan Dong Fang of the independent Hong Kong based China Labour Bulletin comments in this FT video on the recent labor unrest and tragic Foxconn suicides.

A wildcat strike at Honda has led to a large wage increase as well.

I recently was profiled in Inside Fashion making the point that the global “race to the bottom” in China has likely touched bottom. Workers there are pushing back.

The regime itself now likely realizes the need to raise domestic demand to counter balance the hit the export sector is taking. The key step now is the legal recognition of genuinely independent unions. In the longer run the new Chinese labor movement must develop an alternative perspective on economic organization.

June 1: Han Dongfang on why Chinas labour system is broken – world –