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Apple's Foxconn electronics manufacturer blamed for Chinese child slave labor

Dave Masko's picture

PORTLAND, Ore. - High tech manufacturing companies here in the Portland region would love to be the source for Apple’s 37 million iPhones that sold in just the last three months of 2011, but that honor goes to China’s Foxconn.

On Jan. 24, Apple announced “revenue of more than $46 billion” for the quarter ending December 31. Just try to imagine 37 million iPhones: that’s how many Apple sold in just the last three months of 2011 thanks for Apple’s manufacturer in China called ‘Foxconn,’” explained a Jan. 29 report on CBC News “Sunday Morning.” This report also pointed to “The dark side of shiny Apple products” in a lead story headline that detailed massive child “slave labor” and “regular suicides” by those Foxconn employees – including young children -- “who make each and every iPhone by hand,” for what amounts to, state experts, “as slave wages.” At the same time, high tech and cutting edge micro-electronics manufacturing used to be a huge part of the Made in America brand here in Portland’s version of Silicon Valley, but now China’s “Foxconn” is producing the most advanced technology for Apple’s iPhone, iPad and other American high-tech companies are following suit by sending most of their business to Foxconn.

Portland can’t compete with China’s low wages

Portland doesn’t have all the glitz of the Chinese manufacturing company “Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd (trading as Foxconn), nor does it have Apple’s electronics manufacturing business, but unemployed workers here in Portland “wish it did."

"Yea, I wish Apple and other successful American companies would do the right thing and practice ‘Made in America,’ but how can you beat the low wages that are paid over in China,” explains Portland local Erik Perlman during a Jan. 29 Huliq interview near to the city’s popular “White Stag sign” landmark that used to mean Portland was “high tech” due, part, to the sign once being an early version of a neon sign.

Today, lament Perlman and other out-of-work people – who once depended upon Portland’s high tech industries as a source of employment – who now blame Apple and other U.S. technology manufactures for “making a deal with China, and shipping all the jobs overseas.”

In turn, "Occupy Portland" protesters have urged citizens to not buy Foxconn products, stating: "It helps feed corporations who spend money to get their political henchmen elected." And, states the Occupy movement, purchasing a product made in a Chinese sweatshop hurts America, and American workers."

Thus, such sad stories are not uncommon in America today; while Perlman notes “we are still in a recession ‘cause there are no jobs.”

China's Foxconn gets all the jobs

In turn, Foxconn’s clients include American, European and Japanese companies. Notable products which the company manufactures include Apple’s iPad, iPhone, the Amazon Kindle, PlayStation 3, Wii and even the Xbox 360.

In turn, Foxconn is the “largest exporter in Greater China” of technology goods sold in America.

Also, computer components manufacturer Intel is the Portland area’s largest employer, providing jobs for more than 15,000 people, according to a State of Oregon economics report for 2011 that also notes how “many manufacturing jobs have gone to China; thus leaving Portland’s metro area – that’s home to more than 1,200 technology companies – wanting for just a small piece of the pie that China’s Foxconn now controls.

Portland local Erik Perlman and other laid-off technology manufacturing workers, point to the city’s old nickname as “Silicon Forest,” that they say used to describe the Portland area because of the abundance of trees in the Portland region and that it “once was as promising for tech manufacturing as the Silicon Valley region down the West Coast in the San Francisco Bay region.

“Today, we only wish we were the Silicon Forest again,” added Perlman with a deep sense of chagrin.

Apple justifies Chinese slave labor for children

Tim Cook, the man who replaced the late Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple, told Wall Street analysts the company couldn't keep up with global demand for the new iPhone 4S. "We didn't bet high enough," he said in a Jan. 29 CBS News Sunday Morning report.

In turn, this Jan. 29 Sunday Morning news reported opened with an alarming story about how “the world is in love with everything Apple, but here's a question: Have you ever wondered where all that stuff gets made?” It’s alarming because of child “slave labor and worker suicides.”

"I had never thought ever, in a dedicated way, about how they were made," said performer Mike Daisey, an admitted geek. That is the centerpiece of his monologue, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."

“The show is an on-stage expose of working conditions at a factory in Shenzhen, China, owned by a company called Foxconn, which manufactures electronics under contract for practically every major brand you can name, including Apple. It is, as Daisey says in his performance piece, ‘the biggest company you've never heard of. Foxconn makes over 50 percent of all electronics in the world.’ The Foxconn plant in Shenzhen employs more than 400,000 people.”

The dark side of shiny Apple products

In turn, CBS News showed images of Foxconn companies -- that make each and every iPhone and iPad by hand – erecting massive circus-sized netting around the bottom of its building where Apple products are made. The netting is to catch those Chinese child workers – with many thousands under the age of 14 – leaping to their deaths due to the high-stress and long working hours (with many reported working in 12-14 hour shifts to meet Apple’s demand for more iPhone and iPad products worldwide).

In fact, one Foxconn worker named “Sun Dayong,” reportedly committed suicide after reporting the loss of an iPhone4 prototype in his possession. In reaction to a rash of worker suicides at Foxconn – with the company admitting that “14 died of suicide in 2010” by leaping off the building where Apple products are made – an investigative report was investigated by “20 Chinese universities” that described Foxconn “as labor camps and detailed widespread worker abuse and illegal overtime.”

Meanwhile, leading world news agency’s pointed to a protest earlier this month at Wuhan, China, where “150 workers threatened to commit mass suicide because of worsening work conditions. The employees had asked for a raise but were told they could either quit with compensation or keep their jobs with no raise. The employees quit, but did not receive their compensation.”

Also, in response to the Foxconn suicides, CBS News and other media reported how “Foxconn installed suicide-prevention netting at some facilities.”
"If you've never been to the economic engines of China, these giant buildings stacked up with people, they're just staggering," said Daisey in the CBS News report Jan. 29. "It almost takes your breath away."

Kids 12 and 13 making Apple products

Daisey went to Shenzhen and said Foxconn wouldn't let him in, so he stood outside the main gate with his translator, talking to workers at shift change.

"In my first two hours of my first day at that gate, I met workers who are 14 years old," Daisey said. "I met workers who were 13 years old. I met workers who were 12. Do you really think Apple doesn't know?"

But what was news were the suicides, asked CBS News during this lead story on its “Sunday Morning” program Jan. 29.

"While I was there, in May and June 2010, that's really at the peak of when the suicides were happening with kind of terrible regularity," he said, "where week after week, workers would go up onto the roofs of these buildings and throw themselves off the buildings."

"When you were there, were there nets around the building to prevent further suicides?" asked the CBS News reporter. "There was," he said. "They look a lot like the nets you would put out to catch fish."

Apple iPhones for you, suicide for Chinese workers

"From the spike of suicides at Foxconn, we began to question maybe the harsh management methods drive the workers to commit suicide," said Debby Chan, a project manager for SACOM - Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, a labor watchdog group based in Hong Kong. SACOM reported at least 18 Foxconn workers committed suicide in 2010, and more tried.

"We began to interview the workers, and then many of them told us they have work pressure - if they make some mistake they would be punished."

While Apple is earning record profits from its saturation of the market with the ever popular iPhone and iPads, nobody seems to ask “where do these sleek and modern high tech gadgets come from,” asked BBC World News and other British media that are also calling on Apple and other technology manufacturing users to think again by cheap labor in China.

For example, London’s Daily Mail newspaper conducted an investigation of Foxconn a few years ago and then accused it of “abusive employment practices.”

“Although Foxconn was found to be compliant in the majority of areas when Apple audited the maker of its iPods and iPhones, the audit did substantiate a few of the allegations,” added the Daily Mail report.

For instance, allegations of employee mistreatment have been made on a number of occasions. In turn, news reports from both the U.S. and Europe “highlight the long working hours, and no child labor laws in China where Foxconn makes high tech components for the following corporations, according to the Foxconn website.

Foxconn manufactures products for companies including:
-- Acer Inc.
-- Apple Inc.
-- Barnes & Noble
-- Cisco
-- Dell
-- EVGA Corporation
-- Hewlett Packard
-- Intel
-- IBM
-- Microsoft
-- Motorola
-- Netgear
-- Nintendo
-- Nokia
-- Panasonic
-- Samsung
-- Sharp
-- Sony Ericsson
-- Vizio

While the U.S. still has strong child labor laws, such laws do not apply in China at Foxconn and other high tech manufacturing companies; even while Foxconn makes most of the high tech gadgets used in America today.

For instance, in America and other developed countries, it’s considered inappropriate or even exploitative if a child below a certain age works in a factory such as Foxconn’s massive factory system to support Apple and other U.S. high tech companies in China. Also, China seems to give no quarter – according to a recent United Nations report on child labor laws – to the “International Labor Organization’s” 1973 ruling that adopted minimum ages varying from 14 to 16.

Chinese kids making your iPhones, iPads

Imagine Shenzhen, China, and this city with 14 million people that is larger and denser than New York City, explains performance artist Mike Daisey in his hit one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” who also notes “this is the third-largest city in all of China. It’s the place where almost all your ****comes from.”

Even comedian Stephen Colbert commented on Foxxconn's action to ensure the mental health of its employees: "Making them sign a pledge not to kill themselves."

CBS News also featured an interview from last year that was included in this Jan. 29 report on Foxconn with: “This is what Steve Jobs had to say: "We're all over this. Foxconn is not a sweatshop. You go to this place, and it's a factory, but my gosh, I mean, they got restaurants and movie theaters and hospitals and swimming pools. For a factory, it's a pretty nice factory."

Why should iPad users care?

So what then would drive Foxconn workers to commit suicide?

“The pressure to produce, especially to keep up with demand for a hot device like a new iPhone,” explains Mike Daisey.

"The official work day in China is eight hours long. That's a joke," Daisey said in his performance. "I never met anyone who'd even heard of an eight-hour shift. Everyone I talked to worked 12-hour shifts, standard, and often much longer than that: 14 hours a day, 15 hours a day. Sometimes longer than that. While I am in country, a worker at Foxconn dies after working a 34-hour shift."

Also, CBS News stated: “We have repeatedly asked Apple for comment, and been told no,” and CBS News also repeatedly asked Foxconn for access to its Shenzhen plant. “No reply!”

What Apple has to say?

Instead, CBS News was referred to “a London-based consulting firm, Impact Ltd., paid by Apple to address child labor issues among its suppliers. ‘In my experience, their approach to this particular topic of dealing with child labor is at the very top end of industry practice," said Dionne Harrison, director of operations.’”

In turn, When CBS News asked if this Apple consultant has been sent to Foxconn, she replied, "We haven't been to Foxconn, so, just for the record."

If you go to Foxconn's website, you discover that its part of a huge, Taiwan-based conglomerate called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., with plants all over the world - including the United States and Mexico.

Foxconn employs approximately a million people throughout China - not just in Shenzhen. It claims to follow strict industry standards of conduct, and to respect its workforce.

"A lot of companies have codes of conduct or standards that they apply to their factory partners in China," said Ian Spaulding, who heads “Infact,” a consulting firm that helps companies in China improve working conditions. "And what we've learned is a lot of those standards are aspirational in nature. The market practices that a lot of these factories employ are well below those standards."

Apple the leader in making money

"It is common for factories to hide working hours, to somehow coach workers on what to say when auditors come to the factory," Spaulding told CBS News during its Jan. 29 report; while also noting that on January 13, for the first time Apple released a list of its major suppliers, and with it its annual supplier responsibility report, showing that in 2011 it conducted 80 percent more audits than in 2010.

“The company's supplier code of conduct limits workers to a 60-hour/6-day week. By Apple's own data, only 38 percent of its suppliers complied.”

"Apple has said for decades that it wants to be a leader," replied Daisey. "Well, it's a leader now. I think they should be delighted that people actually expect them to lead and to rally the rest of the industry."

So where does that leave us, asked CBS News while noting that “in 2012 it's virtually impossible to stop buying and using electronics made in Chinese factories for Apple or anybody else.

Beautiful Apple devices at what cost?

"Our devices are so beautiful, especially the Apple devices. They're so gorgeous-looking that it seems as though they were made by a machine. But the reality is they're assembled by hand - thousands of people work with their fingers putting together the tiny components," said Daisey. "So much of our world is actually handmade, even though it looks so modern. It's built on the bones of this labor. And we need to actually understand that."

Also, it was announced late last year that Foxconn and Amazon formed a “joint-design manufacturing company.” According to analysts, “the move was meant to produce an Amazon branded smartphone built in China by Foxconn for some time in 2012.”

In turn, Foxconn’s website boasts having factories in Asia, Europe and South America – but not in Portland, Oregon or anywhere else in the U.S. – and, all totaled Foxconn states “it assembles around 40 percent of consumer electronics products in the world.”

Also, Foxconn has 13 factories in nine Chinese cities that help serve its largest supplier, Apple; while Foxconn’s largest factory in Longhua, Shenzhen. China, employees more than 450,000 employees at its “Longhua Science & Technology Park” – a walled campus of about 1.16 square miles that’s referred to as “iPod City,” because it’s best customer is Apple.

Image source of the famous “White Stag sign” that once pointed to Portland, Oregon, industry and manufacturing “back in the day;” while the sign today is simply a popular Portland landmark. Photo courtesy Wikipedia,_Oregon

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