Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, May 28, 2010

Stresses of economic growth

The authoritarian style of government in China extends into industry as well, even when those factories are run by foreign companies. The suicides of industrial workers might be the most visible sign of distress. What's the government's role?

Suicides Expose Stresses Of China Factory Life
A spate of nine employee deaths at global contract electronics manufacturer Foxconn, Apple's main supplier of iPhones, has cast a spotlight on some of the harsher aspects of blue-collar life on the Chinese factory floor.

The worker deaths at Foxconn factories this year, initially dismissed as isolated incidents, have since multiplied and triggered a growing controversy and scrutiny of Foxconn's tight and secretive corporate culture, raising broader questions about the social cost of China's cheap labour manufacturing model…

Factory worker interviews conducted by rights group China Labour Watch, suggest difficult working conditions at some Chinese technology factories…

Worker suicides reflect a deeper problem for China, say experts -- the emotional health of China's vast ranks of migrant workers, many isolated from their families and facing a bleak, low-paid existence on production lines.

"The development of China as a world factory is a fundamental reason causing these suicidal cases," said Pun Ngai, an associate professor of sociology at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University…

Interviews with workers in the Pearl River Delta by China Labour Watch identified 78 suicide cases during the past 10 years, in addition to those at Foxconn.

"Suicides (among workers) are a common problem ... but many factories don't admit it and the families of victims are far away," said Li Qiang, the U.S.-based executive director of China Labour Watch. "This problem isn't noticed as much as it should be."

Electronics Maker Promises Review After Suicides
There were bows and an apology from Terry Gou, one of the richest men in Asia and chairman of Foxconn Technology.

With about 800,000 Chinese employees, revenue of about $60 billion a year and a reputation for military-style efficiency, Foxconn is possibly the world’s biggest electronics maker. It is now also the focus of criticism and troubling questions about a wave of suicides among its workers at a pair of factories here that serve as major suppliers to global brands like Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard…

The company… presented a panel of mental health professionals to discuss the likely causes of suicide in China generally. At least one of the panelists placed the blame on social issues in the country beyond Foxconn’s control…

[S]everal labor rights groups are calling for an independent investigation into the deaths and labor practices at Foxconn. Workers are paid about $32 for a regular 40-hour workweek, which is above minimum wage in the area, and often seek to work large amounts of overtime.

“Foxconn’s production line system is designed so well that no worker will rest even one second during work; they make sure you’re always busy for every second,” says Li Qiang, executive director of the China Labor Watch, a New York-based labor rights group. “Foxconn only values the enterprise benefits but totally ignores the social benefits.”

Those claims have been bolstered in recent weeks by some of China’s state-run newspapers, which have published a series of sensational reports about the suicides, alongside exposés detailing what they claim are the harsh conditions inside Foxconn factories...

Another Death Hits China iPhone Maker's Plant
A tenth employee of iPhone-maker Foxconn jumped to his death late on Wednesday, just hours after the company's chairman promised to make life better for employees at the sprawling production site in southern China…

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