Foxconn says to boost China worker participation in union

TAIPEI/BEIJING Mon Feb 4, 2013 7:13am EST

1 of 3. Workers walk out of the entrance to a Foxconn factory in Chengdu, Sichuan province July 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Foxconn Technology Group, the assembler of most of the world's top-selling electronic gadgets including Apple Inc's iPhone, is trying to raise participation in its union as part of efforts to dispel a rash of bad publicity over poor working conditions and labor disputes.

Taiwan's Foxconn, which employs more than 1 million people, mostly in China at huge factory complexes, hit the headlines in mid-2010 following a spate of worker suicides and widespread allegations of poor conditions, long hours and low wages.

Apple, Foxconn's main client, asked the U.S.- based Fair Labor Association (FLA) to review Foxconn's operations last year following the troubles at its plants and criticism of Apple itself for having its high-priced gadgets made in low-wage Foxconn plants.

Foxconn said on Monday it was increasing the number of junior employee representatives in committees within the union representing its workers. It said all its sites had been holding elections to increase the number of such positions, and the management was not involved in the election process.

"As a part of efforts to implement the Action Plan that was developed together with the Fair Labor Association, Foxconn is introducing measures to enhance employee representation in the Foxconn Labor Union and to raise employees' awareness of the organization," it said in a statement.

Foxconn's latest plan follows recommendations in the FLA report. It has already implemented other recommendations and has increased wages and improved amenities at its sites.

Foxconn is the trading name of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.


Labor analysts said that while the latest plans show willingness on the part of the company to engage its workers, they would not mean much of a change, with the key being how the representatives will be chosen.

"Only by letting the workers choose their candidates by themselves and then vote for them can they fully express the hopes of workers," said Wang Jing, dean of the department of labor relations at Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing.

"But anyway, it's a good to see this. It shows that the company wants to improve its relations with the workers," she added, noting that Apple was likely to be pushing Foxconn to implement change to protect its own brand image.

Foxconn's labor troubles are not unique in China, where many workers face much worse conditions, but because of the company's high-profile customers, which also include Dell Inc, Hewlett-Packard Co, Sony Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd, it has attracted the most attention.

Others were skeptical that Foxconn's plans could lead to real change, given that independent labor unions are technically forbidden in China, and noted that previous experiments in worker representation in foreign companies have not resulted in much change.

"Foxconn is not the first company in China that has tried 'democratic' elections," said Anita Chan, professor at the China Research Centre, the University of Technology in Sydney, citing previous such moves by Reebok, Walmart Stores Inc and Honda Motor Co Ltd.

"They all caught a lot of international attention at the time of the union elections but all came to nought. It is all PR."

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions, backed by the stability obsessed Communist Party, discourages worker activism and generally sides with management in labor disputes.

(Reporting by Clare Jim in Taipei and Beijing newsroom; Writing by Jonathan Standing; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Comments (3)
BlueCannon wrote:
Such a labor union is rarely independent of employer’s influence on concerted activities favorable to management. Workers’ reluctance to join is understandable.

Feb 04, 2013 7:45am EST  --  Report as abuse
Harry079 wrote:
“given that independent labor unions are technically forbidden in China”

Is that like Illegal Immigration is technically forbidden in the United States?

Feb 04, 2013 11:33am EST  --  Report as abuse
flashrooster wrote:
No, Harry. It’s more like the opposite of what we have here; forbidden in every sense except technically.

Hmmm…let’s add this up, shall we? China is a communist state; Chinese officials discourage labor unions; workers in China suffer under low wages and bad working conditions; the rich are getting enormously richer in China, while most remain impoverished; Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, has gotten a lot of flack for the long hours, poor working conditions, and low wages they impose on their workers. To counter this criticism, Foxconn gets behind union support. Okay, all of that is easy to sum up. Suffering Chinese laborers, as well as one of the world’s major companies, recognize that organizing labor is the path toward righting some of the wrongs, the abuses, suffered by Chinese workers, as modern societies all over the globe have come to realize.

Yet here in the good ol’ USofA the “conservatives” work night and day trying to destroy labor unions by weakening them into fecklessness. America’s rightwing, backed by our ruling plutocrats, are on the same page with the Chinese communists. Strip labor of any ability to organize where they could exert influence over business and government. I don’t know about you folks, but I strongly come down on the side of the people, not the profiteers and their puppet politicians. Why on earth would anyone want a world where a very few own everything and everyone else works for them like serfs? That’s where the rightwingers are taking us. And have been very successful at it, too.

Feb 04, 2013 1:50pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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