Foxconn, or Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, is a multinational manufacturing company based out of Taiwan which accounts for about 40% of all assembled electronic products.  Though Foxconn has factories throuhgout  Asia, Europe, Mexico and South America, its largest operation takes place in China, where the majority of the controversy surrounding the company has stemmed from.  Foxconn has 13 factories throughout China, the largest of which is in Longhua, and with potentially 450,000 workers that live, eat, and work within the walled compound, has been dubbed “Foxconn City”.

Many of the confirmed documented complaints about the conditions in the factory stem around questionable demands and working conditions.  A 2012 audit by the Fair Labor Association uncovered some unethical workplace issues.  Many workers reported working in excess of 60 hours a week, but received unfair overtime compensation, and the majority of workers complained that they were not paid enough to afford basic needs.  When a factory like “Foxconn City” houses, feeds, and employs these people, it would appear to be by design that these workers are trapped in a slave-like situation.  In addition to issues over hours and pay, many concerns have been raised over the amount of workplace accidents and lack of safety precautions that exist in these factories.

Arguably the largest emphasis of the media in recent years has been the issue of suicide at the Foxconn factories.  After a spat of 14 suicides in 2010, Foxconn factories installed the infamous “suicide nets” that are pictured above.  However, since then the amount of employee suicides has been negligible, and interestingly enough, the rate of suicides among Foxconn employees has always been lower than the average rate of both Chinese and American citizens.

All in all, there is no doubt that Foxconn has engaged in some ethically questionable practices as an employer.  However, it is up for debate whether their factories truly represent modern day labor camps, or if they are in reality the best opportunity for Chinese workers to make a living.  Perhaps both cases are simultaneously true, which speaks about the basic plight of the Chinese lower class.  What do others think about the ethical issues surrounding Foxconn and other similar companies?

4 Responses to Foxconn

  1. Reading the story about Foxconn and hearing about it in class reminded me of something I learned in the US History II class. Believe it or not, there was a time in US history where similar situations took place. If I remember correctly, it was during the industrialization era, a time when workplace conditions were horrible, child labor was common, and pay was minimum. However, through persistent Labor Union efforts, all of that became history.

    A question I asked myself while reading this article was, whether there is any chance of fixing and regulating the workplace conditions in China, particularly in Foxconn. Because then outsourcing would not carry all the negative ethical issues with it. Unfortunately, I think this will ultimately increase cost of production, and discourage large companies to outsource in the first place. Nonetheless, something needs to be done about Foxconn because from the utilitarian stand point, that is the moral thing to do.

  2. chrislontoh brings up some good points. As the saying goes “history will repeat itself” and perhaps something like this will take place in China. On one hand China is slowly beginning to become self-aware of their lifestyles and the consequences that result. This is relevant in the smog issues that surround most of China’s major cities and have resulted in some political and cultural change.

    On the other hand, China’s ability to offer cheap labor is a completely different beast. The Chinese people find it hard to justify higher pay as the work they tend to do is usually assembly line style that requires little to no training. Also, the difficulty to find paying jobs prevents them from sticking their neck out because they can be replaced in a heartbeat.

    Foxconn is no exception. While the working conditions of Foxconn may not be as bad as the reports were making them out to be, the conditions elsewhere are still inhumane and need to be addressed.

  3. By no means would I ever want to work at a Foxconn factory, but I feel as though maybe it is portrayed to be a little worse in the news than it actually is. The picture shown in the economist article looked fairly clean. I know if the company has terrible working conditions they probably aren’t going to show pictures with such conditions, but the article would have been more effective had the picture depicted worse working conditions. For that reason I am a little skeptical that it is as bad as the articles say. I’m not saying that there are no problems with huge factories like this but it definitely seems safer than working for the companies that break down the e-waste.

    One point that a few of the articles made was that many of the workers are forced to work many hours of overtime and are often fairly compensated for it. While this is probably true, I don’t exactly understand the need to make employees work so much overtime. With the huge population in China I would think there would be enough potential workers so that nobody would have to be forced to work the overtime, and I don’t know how overtime compensation works in China, but if it works the same as it does here, it would also be cheaper for Foxconn to higher more employees and avoid paying them for the extra amount of overtime the work. Maybe this could be a potential solution to that problem.

  4. Just like what chrislontoh said, companies like Foxconn or the process of how China is developing nowadays is inevitable. As what my teachers taught me in high school, it’s an essential process for developing countries to become developed ones. And the existence of companies like Foxconn meets the great demands for European and American countries where manpower cost is much higher. And that’s why there are some many companies willing to cooperate with China and put there industry program there. And those industry companies or facctories devote a large among of China’s economy.

    So what I am trying to say is that since those companies needed to be set somewhere in the last, it makes slight difference to be in China, or America, or somewhere else. The question, in contrary, would be how we should set those unemployed workers if those manufacturing companies are closed and there are no so many jobs any more.

    Globalization is a great process, being part of it may hurt developing countries in some way, but after that certain period , I believe not only the country itself benefits but also its people.