Workers of the East unite – the Chinese factory which drew the world’s attention after 10 workers killed themselves this year has agreed to raise wages by 33% in a last-ditch attempt to stop more deaths. Wages will rise from 900 renminbi (£89) a month to 1,200 renminbi (£119), which the company says will give workers ‘more leisure time’ and attract more qualified workers. But with analysts suggesting the suicides were less to do with money and more to do with the ‘monstrous’ working conditions reported by some workers, whether or not this will solve the problem remains to be seen.
Foxconn needed to be seen to be doing something to repair its reputation: in the past few months, the company, which manufactures electronics for the likes of Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple, has seen its share prices drop by 1.4% in Hong Kong, amid accusations of long working hours, compulsory overtime and draconian management techniques. Hours after a group of journalists were allowed to tour the factory last week, one worker attempted suicide.
Still, things could be worse: having conducted an investigation into the facilities at Foxconn, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and well-known champion of workers’ rights, has pronounced the factory ‘not a sweatshop’. Onstage at the All Things Digital conference in California, Jobs told the audience: 'My gosh, they’ve got restaurants and movie theatres and swimming pools.' My gosh indeed – hospitals? Those Foxconn workers have all the fun.
Jobs added that Apple is ‘trying to understand’ what’s going on at the factory ‘before we go in and say we know the solution’. Just give them all iPads, Steve. Having to manufacture these instruments of magic and not being lucky enough to own one? That’s probably why they were committing suicide in the first place.
Of course, all the swimming pools and movie theatres and hospitals in the world aren’t going to be of any use if the workers are forced to do compulsory overtime and thus aren’t given the opportunity to make use of them. The average working week for Foxconn staff is said to be 70 hours – and commentary by some analysts have indicated a mere rise in wages isn’t going to be enough to make a difference to workers’ general happiness.
With demand for the iPad likely to put pressure on the factory to step up production, it looks as though Foxconn workers are going to be in for more long hours. Still, at least they can labour happy in the knowledge that the factory isn’t a sweatshop. That should be a comfort.
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