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Foxconn factory in China shows scars of clash among workers

September 27, 2012|Bloomberg News
  • A car was turned over during a fight among employees at a Foxconn Technology Group factory in Taiyuan, China.
A car was turned over during a fight among employees at a Foxconn Technology… (Associated Press )

Security teams wearing riot helmets and wielding plastic shields marched around a Foxconn Technology Group factory that had been the scene of a fight involving 2,000 workers.

The campus used by 79,000 workers in Taiyuan in northern Shanxi province showed the damage caused by the Sunday clash among laborers that left more than 40 people hospitalized. Windows in a bathhouse, supermarket, arcade and parked cars were shattered.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou has moved in recent years to improve conditions at his factories after a spate of suicides. The company's largest customer, Apple Inc., pressured Foxconn to make the changes.

But some improvements had not reached Taiyuan, workers said. They charged that the facility has inferior food, poor sanitation and overcrowded dorms, while security guards are young, poorly trained and too aggressive.

"The guards here use gangster style to manage," said Foxconn worker Fang Zhongyang, 23, outside campus gates. "We are not against following rules, but you have to tell us why. They won't explain things, and we feel like we cannot communicate with them."

Fang, from nearby Henan province, has worked at Foxconn two years. He started in Shenzhen, the company's biggest facility, making Apple iPhones, and moved to Taiyuan four months ago.

One guard, a young woman, yelled at a reporter for interviewing workers near the southern gate and told employees to get back inside. She ordered the reporter to go across the street, saying the space outside the gate was Foxconn property.

"The guards here are fierce," said a worker identifying himself as Huang, age 20.

As he spoke, platoons in green uniforms kept formation inside the campus.

Louis Woo, a spokesman for the Taipei company, said he was unaware of the accusations against the security guards.

"If there's any truth to these allegations, we'll take severe action against any security guards, even though we don't hire them directly," Woo said by phone.

Foxconn isn't hiring more security — it has asked government officials to help monitor the situation. Woo declined to say what products were made at the Taiyuan factory. The employees interviewed said they make small components.

Workers said the fight started in a dormitory and escalated when guards employed by independent contractors responded with excessive force. Such tension is typical in China, said Geoffrey Crothall, a director at rights group China Labor Bulletin.

"Factory workers anywhere, beyond Foxconn, never have a good word to say about security guards," Crothall said. "Their training is minimal, they're recruited en masse and the requirements are not much."

Foxconn employs more than 1.2 million workers in at least 18 countries, including China, Brazil, Taiwan, Vietnam and Mexico. It is the primary supplier of Apple's iPad and iPhone, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation game console and TVs, and Nintendo Co.'s Wii console.

The average worker at the Taiyuan plant is 20 years old, with 65% being male and 77% coming from Shanxi province, according to a company official who declined to be identified because of the police investigation. The average age is three years younger than at Foxconn's Shenzhen factories producing Apple products, according to a March report from the Fair Labor Assn., which audited the company's working conditions.

Taiyuan workers start at a monthly salary of about $286 and can get a raise of about $32 after three months. They also get bonuses during Chinese New Year, after six months on the job and after a year. Employees can work as much as 36 hours of overtime a month, the company official said.

Employees outside the factory said the pay was good, though their living conditions were not. The food was of low quality, dorm rooms had four bunk beds for eight people, and the shared bathrooms weren't clean.

"The dormitories are too crowded," said a 24-year-old worker identifying himself as Wang. "I don't sleep well because it's noisy. The environment isn't good."

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