“Life is Meaningless”


As we all know, Foxconn manufactures more than 40 percent of the world’s electronics for companies such as Apple, Dell, and Amazon. Moreover, they are China’s largest and most prominent private employer, with 1.2 million workers. Controlled by Terry Gou, Foxconn has become a symbol of the struggle to improve conditions for workers. In recent years, Foxconn was put in the spotlight on this issue, and pledged to decrease working hours and increase wages. I decided that I wanted to look further into this company and see what they are up to now.

As a result of all of the negative press, progress is finally being made. The working conditions are in fact changing (forbes.com), but are they changing for the better? Foxconn has indeed scaled back on the number or workers they hire, and it now is shifting instead to increasing their productivity through robotics. Liu Kon, a spokesman for Foxconn, said in a China Daily story published two weeks ago that “the company had been on a steady course for a while to replace manpower with robotic systems.” However, there have still been scandals remerging from the company. As recent as 2012, Foxconn admitted to hiring underage workers.

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A Foxconn worker was quoted saying, “Life is meaningless.” I think that when people read articles about the poor labor conditions, it is hard for them to comprehend and imagine the words. We often forget that these workers are individuals, with their own lives, problems and dreams. Imagine that these workers were your family members, not just thousands of people that you will never know. What if your family members were making these products and being treated so poorly? Would you use products manufactured at Foxconn if that was the case?

Companies such as Apple use Foxconn because it is one of the few that can meet their production requirements and churn out millions of devices each month. If they abandon their partnership with Foxconn, then that means fewer products. Apple has taken few steps to improve the conditions at Foxconn. They hired internal agents within the FLA to conduct audits of their supplier factories. These agents came up with plans that they believed would be helpful in correcting the issues within the Chinese factories where these Apple products are made. However, it does not seem that these investigations helped much at all, considering all of the negative press still coming out concerning Foxconn. Finally, The New York Times also reported that although Foxconn did not reveal how much they would raise wages, they did make a commitment that by July of 2013, no worker will labor for more than 49 hours per week. Foxconn has also promised that despite cutting hours, employees’ pay will not be reduced. I guess we will just have to wait and see if Foxconn actually keeps their promise. What do you all think? Will they keep their promises?

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6 thoughts on ““Life is Meaningless”

  1. I am still very skeptical about Apple manufacturing factories in China. Since Apple sales have not majorly suffered from all of the negative press, I do not think that Apple has a main priority of fixing the conditions in the factories. As past experience has shown, Apple does not care about the salaries of workers and how many hours they are worked to the bone. Apple is a very secretive company and they make such a major profit from exploiting cheap labor in developing countries. I do think that the robots will change the dynamic of the factories, but I do not trust Foxconn’s pledge that workers wages will increase while their hours decrease.

  2. It’s hard to say whether or not Foxconn will make any substantial changes anytime soon. Its contractors rely on Foxconn so heavily. Apple and the other big companies have a huge contract with Foxconn. Furthermore, it does not seem to be affecting Apple all that much that bad press is being released about its contractor. Apple made simple and small changes to regulate Foxconn which proved to suffice in having the public think enough of them to continue and buy their products at substantial rates. I don’t know if major changes to working conditions will occur till robots are employed to do the work. This is a bit scary – will one day robots control the entire job market in terms of manufacturing. Will our economy rely on these robots and will everyone who currently has a job at Foxconn be unemployed? That doesn’t seem like a great solution but I can’t really imagine what that will be like…..

  3. I personally think that Apple cannot affect Foxconn as much as people say electronic-giant can. In fact, losing Foxconn would mean a huge deficit for Apple. So, in case of a huge supplier, such as Foxconn, I would say that Chinese manufacturer has leverage, not Apple. Automatizing production and adding robots would only increase the leverage: Foxconn will be the largest AND the most efficient manufacturer. As for labor conditions – they will definitely become better: people won’t have to work at Foxconn anymore.

    On a side note. Why do you think so very few individuals in China own an iPad? Is it because their relatives manufacture the product and they refuse to buy it?

  4. Great post! What I think is interesting to address is what it will take to make sure that Foxconn makes changes for the better, and then sticks to them. The robots are clearly a way out of the negative press regarding their labor practices, but since they are so expensive and probably must be upgraded and maintained, is it worth it? Since Apple is Foxconn’s largest clients, they would have been one of the few that could make an impact on Foxconn’s policies. So to answer your question, I think they will continue to try any method that will prevent them from continuing to get such terrible press. So for now, it looks like the robots are the answer.

  5. I want to address the question of how I would feel if that was my family member working there. First of all, you can’t look at it from the eyes of a fortunate American. Secondly, you have to consider why the person is working there. If the person is working there because my family is in desperate need of money, well then we don’t really have much of a choice. Yeah, the conditions may suck, but at least there is a paycheck. Conversely, I forget where it was mentioned but I think I recall a source saying that a lot of people who have a job there are doing it as a supplemental form of income for their family. They aren’t the bread winners, but more like the side of mashed potatoes winner. If that’s the case, then once again I don’t know if I can feel too passionate about the conditions. I will say though that I do not like the labor practices and wish they would continue to improve them, but if my family member was working there its probably because they have to.

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