Once again, labor strife has hit China's Foxconn, the world's largest electronics manufacturer. This time, 40 workers were injured and an indeterminate number arrested after an incident involving some 2000 people at one of Foxconn's largest plants - the Taiyuan plant in Shanxi province, which employs 78,000.
The Taiwanese-owned giant is claiming in its statements that the incident - which took place at 11 pm on a Sunday night - was a brawl among workers. By late Monday, the company had suspended production at the plant which produces some - although in this case the company says not many - iPhone components.
But other media are reporting that the fracas was ignited when a guard hit one of the workers, and matters escalated. But, the real culprit remains the working conditions at Foxconn factories. According to a Chinese blogger, the Taiyuan plant was the subject of an undercover report which "highlighted the company's harsh management as well as 'practically compulsory' over-time work. We don't doubt that this riot escalated due to dissatisfaction over working conditions."
Although Foxconn was investigated by the international Fair Labor Association, and the company made some changes in wages and working conditions, it has clearly not been enough. The Financial Times quoted Yang Lixiong, a labor expert at Renmin University in Beijing:
"Unless the overall social environment changes, some minor changes at Foxconn are meaningless. In a good social environment, workers enjoy freedom and employers are being regulated, but currently the opposite is the case, so that workers live in oppression."
And, we might add, that without independent unions, freedom and safety remain at the whim of employers.
Riot breaks out at Foxconn's Taiyuan plant, reportedly over guards beating up a worker (engadget.com, Sep. 23, 2012)
Chinese students forced to work at Foxconn (Speed Matters, Sep. 11, 2012)