Foxconn

I’m a little slow in catching up with headline news. Because i don’t usually read news. Only when enough people on my subscribed blog list started commenting about the same headline news, then I started to pay attention.

Such is the case with Foxconn. So what that Chinese workers working in sweat shops kill themselves. Tell me something i don’t know. But turned out there are a lot more i didn’t know.

Most of the time, I read “fakesteve” for its comic value. But yesterday, its article on foxconn caught me off guard. For once, it seemed rather professional. At least it sounded more rational and data driven than most other headline news.
Our New Spin on the Foxconn Suicide Epidemic

They’re jumpers. And jumpers, my friends, are a different breed. Ask any cop or shrink who deals with this stuff. Jumpers want to make a statement. Jumpers are trying to tell you something.

Also, consider this. Walmart has 1.4 million employees in the United States. Can you remember a time when 10 or 15 Walmart workers jumped to their deaths from the roofs of Walmart stores over the course of a few months? Have you ever heard of Walmart asking employees to sign a no-suicide contract, or putting safety nets up on all of its buildings? If this did happen, would you think maybe something is going on at Walmart? Or would you just say, well, 10 or 15 people out of 1.4 million is still waaaay below the national average?

Britain’s National Health Service has 1.3 million employees. Number of suicides last year involving NHS workers jumping from NHS buildings: zero. Indian Railways has 1.6 million employees. Can you recall the last time 10 or 15 of them threw themselves under trains over the course of a few months? Deutsche Post has half a million employees. Ever heard a story about a dozen of them hurling themselves into letter-sorting machines?

And yes, France Telecom did have a suicide epidemic last year. Guess what. Nobody went around saying that it was no big deal because it was still below the national average in France — instead the official explanation was that the suicides were caused by brutal management harassing workers. The Sarkozy administration took this seriously and got involved and at France Telecom a top executive actually resigned because of the tragedy

So it is a humorous way to get me thinking of the media spin. I can see why Chinese mainstream media would want to point out foxconn’s suicide rate is way below national average, so it is not a big deal. Then why does western media equally eager to embrace that line of spin?

It only took me one search phrase to come up with some data that really made me think. Everyone has heard how Apple’s market capitalization surpassed Microsoft during this past week. I have heard quite a few people telling me how amazing Apple’s profit margin is especially w/r to iphone and ipad.

Here is some data behind that AMAZING profit margin:

(Source: BBC China) 中国媒体报道说,苹果公司从iPad产品中获得超过50%的 利润,每台499美元的iPad,苹果公司获利297美元。其成本主要为拥有专利的LG公司(生产触摸显示屏)和韩国三星获得。富士 康加工组装费每台只有11美元。富士康工人的基本月薪为100美元。

Chinese media reported that Apple’s profit margin of ipad is 50%+. For one $499 iPad, Apple profit equals $297. The parts cost went to mostly LG and Samsung, (LG’s touch screen dominates the cost, at approx. $80 a piece). Foxconn got paid $11 per iPad for assembly. The basic salary of a Foxconn worker: $100/month.

And what kind of work condition does these workers must endure in order to earn that $100/month? Here are some info reported by China Labor Watch. I’ve also heard some of it on NPR last week. Some excerpt to give people a taste of how it was like.

…its workers, most of whom are in their early 20s with little or no social support, labor for up to 12 hours at a stretch on highly-repetitive, assembly-line tasks without any break and sometimes the workers are forced to work even on weekends.

…they need to finish one task every 7 seconds [i heard this on the radio]

..Foxconn is … enforcing harsh, military-style work culture to maximize output. [Think of the long lines outside of apple store demanding iphone, ipad…]

…They are not allowed to talk to each other when working. Even in the same production line, workers do not have chance to get to know their colleagues.

Basically they are treated like machines, except they are cheaper to maintain. The downside is machine breaks down but a machine won’t commit suicide.

When i was chatting with my mom about this, first question she asked was why didn’t they leave? go work somewhere else?

Turned out Foxconn is actually not the worst place to work. To the contrary it is actually one of the most sought after place in Shenzhen for migrate workers. Why? because it is reputable, large, and stable. It actually pays salary on time.

That’s right, lots of places in the Chinese labor market don’t even pay their workers on time. It is not just limited to manufactory jobs. Even in white collar market such as free lance writers for magazines often never gets paid. After a while, people gravitate toward large, reputable, well-known employers, even though their pay might be lower than smaller places.

If you are working in the worst place in town, then at least you know you have the option of moving to a better place. What if you are already at the best place in town and still you are driven to despair by the work and pressure, what then?

Reference on Foxconn being the best place to work (in Chinese): 因为富士康是最好的选择
Reference on iPad material cost by iSuppli: Apple’s iPad’s Components May cost $260.

One thought on “Foxconn

  1. I saw on TV that the colleagues in the same dorm of one jumper don’t know what’s his name, after share same room for quite long time. Then I know it’s not a life worth living. Although as we always experienced, all media and ‘experts’ always say nothing wrong with the factory.

    Then one day I saw on web 郑渊洁 said on twitter (I dont like a lot of his sayings except this one), I can only imagine one situation I will jump: I am living in a place worse than dying; that is already the best place I can achieve.

    Exactly the same as your essay.

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