The Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn is the single largest exporter from China. It manufactures high-end equipment for Apple, Dell, HP, Nintendo, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and a clutch of other global brands. Owned by Taiwan’s richest man, Terry Tai-Ming Gou, who commands a personal fortune of $5.9 billion according to Forbes magazine, Foxconn’s militarised sweatshops are the secret behind the super-profits of companies like Apple, which is now the most valuable tech company in the world and the second most valuable US company after Exxon Mobile.
Foxconn’s business model is based on mass production at thin margins, realised by driving its young workforce to the maximum.
While Foxconn has largely achieved anonymity as the world’s largest maker of electronic gadgetry, its shocking suicide rate has catapulted the company to global notoriety. It’s mastodon factories – Foxconn employs a million workers in China – which resemble medium-sized cities, are run like a military dictatorship.
All the suicide victims at Foxconn’s two Shenzhen factories have been migrant workers in the 17-25 age group. Employees are forced to work double or triple the legal limit on overtime on a regular basis, according to independent surveys. While the maximum legal amount of overtime is 36 hours per month in China, researchers report that 80 to 100 hours of overtime is normal at Foxconn.
Another factor is systematic repression. The company prefers to employ ex-army officers from Taiwan as line supervisors. Militarisation of the production process is a feature of the ‘Foxconn model’. Nearly 28 percent of workers have been verbally insulted by supervisors or security personnel, and 16 percent have suffered physical abuse, according to a 83-page dossier on Foxconn produced jointly by 20 Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese universities.
Industry giants such as Apple, Nokia and others, which dominate the market for consumer electronics, have built their business models on outsourcing and the super-exploitation in low-wage economies such as China. As campaign groups have pointed out in connection to Foxconn’s suicides, “there is blood on those iPhones”.
Only action by the international working class to reorganise these companies under public ownership, with democratic management and planning by the majority, rather than maximising “shareholder value” for a financial elite, can eradicate the inhumanity of Foxconn’s ‘blood factories’.
11th June 2010