Twelve workers have committed suicide so far this year at the factory that makes Apple iPads. Four others survived, gravely injured, and 20 were stopped from killing themselves by the company. All the dead were between 18 and 24 years old.
Foxconn – the city-sized factory in the Shenzhen free trade zone, southern China – employs 400,000 mainly migrant workers. They work 70 hours a week for about 50 cents an hour under a military-style administration and harsh working conditions.
Foxconn also supply Dell, Hewlett Packard and Sony and is one of the largest producers of computers and consumer electronics in the world.
One worker said: “We are extremely tired, with tremendous pressure. We finish one step in every seven seconds, which requires us to concentrate and keep working and working. We work faster even than the machines.
“Every shift (ten hours), we finish 4,000 Dell computers, all the while standing up. We can accomplish these assignments through collective effort, but many of us feel worn out.”
A week ago an undercover team infiltrated the plant. They told the Daily Telegraph: “Hundreds of people work in the workshops but they are not allowed to talk to each other. If you talk you get a black mark in your record and you get shouted at by your manager. You can also be fined.”
The company are constructing nets around the seven storey dormitories from which workers have been jumping. They have also hired 70 psychologists and brought in Buddhist monks.
Terry Gou, the Taiwanese billionaire chairman of Foxconn’s parent company Hon Hai, had toured the plant with journalists only hours before the latest death. “This is not a sweatshop”, he told them.
Apple’s sales were £30 billion last year. The company’s audit of its own “supplier responsibility codes” shows that 102 facilities flouted the “rigorous rules” on working hours, 39% broke rules on workplace injury prevention and 30% broke guidelines on toxic waste disposal. There were also violations on child labour and falsified records. Will Apple cancel these contracts? I wouldn’t hold your breath.
The modern, high tech, trendy image of Apple has proved to be a veil behind which hundreds of thousands of workers are brutally exploited in barbaric conditions.
Chinese workers need independent, democratic, campaigning trade unions to fight for decent pay and conditions and for an end to the tyranny of these workplace prisons.