Foxconn’s Labor Conditions
Over the past twenty years, China has become a popular place for employing cheap labor. Many foreign companies from different countries around the world, especially the United States, have greatly benefited from using a lot of cheap labor in China. “About 70 percent of the worlds’ umbrellas, 60 percent of the world’s buttons, 72 percent of U.S. shoes are made in China [sic], and 50 percent of U.S. kitchen appliances are made in China” (Hays, 2008, para. 2). However, the cheap labor force has introduced an ethical problem of working conditions for employees. Some multinational companies have been notorious for making large amounts of money and benefiting from cheap workers. These companies earn a lot of money, but the workers have to endure poor working conditions. Of the many companies in the long list that are guilty of this, Foxconn, in 2010, came to international attention because of a large number of worker suicides. Although Foxconn has claimed that many of its workers had hidden, pre-existing psychological problems that were the cause of the sudden spate of worker suicides at Foxconn in China in 2010, many of Foxconn’s negative labor conditions and the impotence of Foxconn’s trade unions were the major contributors to the mental health problems of its employees. These problems are now being addressed by Foxconn.
Before discussing the issue, a background of who Foxconn is and why they have been singled out for poor labor conditions should be explained. Prior to the “Foxconn suicides”, a suicide problem was not recognized by the ordinary public in China. Foxconn is the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, which is one of the largest electronics companies in the world. Foxconn was founded by Terry Guo. It is a Taiwanese multinational company, but most factories are in China. It is responsible for the manufacturing and assembling of consumer electronic products for companies like Dell, Apple, Nokia, and so on. During 2010, a string of worker suicides in Foxconn took place because of bad working conditions. This series of worker suicides attracted the international media, which became concerned about the suicide problem and entered into discussions about the labor conditions at Foxconn in China (Cheng, Chen & Yip, 2011, pp. 841-842).
The biggest problem that caused Foxconn’s worker suicides was poor working conditions. Many of Foxconn’s negative labor conditions, specifically excessive overtime, autocratic management styles, industrial relations and low wages, have contributed to the mental health issues of its employees. Some have objected to these reasons, but their views are not supported.
First of all, the major reason for the Foxconn labor suicides was overtime work. Xu and Li (2013) report that “[t]he workers were working overtime (12 h per day and 26 days per month) and were paid poorly (less than 2000 yuan or USD 300 per month)” (p. 380). It is clear that Foxconn’s working time was very long. In Foxconn’s working environment, workers were only having four days rest every month and they did not even get any overtime allowance for weekends.
Second, a military management style at Foxconn for its workers was another factor that has contributed to worker suicides at Foxconn. The workers were forced to live in dormitories where they had limited space, and this arrangement allowed the factory to use them for overtime whenever they wanted (Smith, 2013, p. 87). It is clear that Foxconn emphasizes efficiency and execution. The military management was immoral because Foxconn simply ignored the basic needs of workers. Moreover, Xu and Li (2013) state that Foxconn’s management style was very abusive, using insults and often cursing the workers (p. 375). Here, Xu and Li indicate Foxconn’s inhuman management style. This way of management was considered to be seriously hindering the code of ethics to manage workers. Furthermore, it has…