Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Despite well-known harsh factory conditions, thousands queue for new Foxconn jobs

A recent New York Times expose cast a dark shadow over Foxconn, one of Apple's key suppliers, for issues with worker rights and safety and violations of Apple's own policies. You might assume that the jobs, therefore, are not all that desirable.

You would be wrong.

Despite the fact that numerous suicides occurred at Foxconn in 2010 over horrible working conditions and because the families of those who took their lives received compensation for the deaths, there are huge lines when Foxconn has openings.

Embedded below is a local news story (in Chinese) detailing how thousands of applicants stood for hours outside a labor agency in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, which is the largest city of Henan province in north-central China.

In late December, it was reported that Foxconn was working with the city in order to double the size of the workforce there. The company wants to hire an additional 100,000 employees, the same number it employed in 2011.

The fact that thousands wait for jobs that have been said to be horrible in terms of worker treatment shows the sad state of affairs in the job market in China. The lines stretched more than 200m down the road.

The job posting by the Zhengzhou city government said salary for the positions would be 1650 yuan (US$261) monthly, with an increase to 2400 – 3200 yuan (US$379 - $506) after an appraisal. Food and dormitory living are included in that figure.

Reports from Chinese media noted that many of the applicants had prior work experience, with some of them already working for Foxconn. These current Foxconn workers were looking to transfer from Foxconn's other facilities in southern China to a site closer to home.

Apple's position as the world's No. 1 ranked firm in terms of market cap (trading off and on with Exxon Mobil) makes it an obvious target of criticism over worker treatment and profits made therein. It's true, though, that although Apple was central in the New York Times article about workers at Foxconn plants, Foxconn has many other clients, including HP, Dell, Nokia, and more, and also true that harsh worker conditions are not isolated to electronics manufacturing.

While Apple CEO Tim Cook addressed the issue in an internal email to employees, stating that the company cares about "about every worker in our worldwide supply chain," and while it's true the issue is really Foxconn's, not Apple's, this quote in the New York Times article from former Apple exec made it clear Apple could force Foxconn --- and others --- to make real change happen.

“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on. Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice. If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?”

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