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How Things Are Improving At Foxconn, And Why That's Not Great For Some

Working conditions at Foxconn plants are well known to just about everyone at this point. And while executives have been paying lip service to improvements for years, it seems that things are finally looking up. But the improved conditions come at a cost.

The New York Times has a huge report out of China, detailing how things are changing at the plants:

CHENGDU, China – One day last summer, Pu Xiaolan was halfway through a shift inspecting iPad cases when she received a beige wooden chair with white stripes and a high, sturdy back.

At first, Ms. Pu wondered if someone had made a mistake. But when her bosses walked by, they just nodded curtly. So Ms. Pu gently sat down and leaned back. Her body relaxed.

The rumours were true.

Which is Foxconn in a nutshell, basically. Company-wide, hours are being regulated more closely, and pay has increased overall. Safety is also being taken more seriously, with padding and automatic shut-offs added to much of the industrial equipment. Other plants are using dedicated intermediaries to talk to employees about professional gripes, or just personal problems:

For eight hours a day, Ms. Zhang collects complaints about the factory’s free meals and dorms. She listens to workers who are divorcing, homesick or arguing with managers. When she finds someone suffering, she refers them to the company’s full-time doctor or professional counselors.

All of which sounds like good, solid progress. The piece is filled with examples of better conditions re-humanising workers. Still, there’s a trade-off:

There are costs for workers, too. Quanta’s employees earn slightly less than their peers at Foxconn. What’s more, Quanta’s emphasis on hours that are easier on employees means they are prohibited from overtime shifts that advocates say are abusive, but which some workers insist they want.

That makes sense when you think about it. While many employees are certainly forced into extreme overtime, others have very good reasons for needing the money that comes from those shifts. And while it would be ideal if wages rose to the point that those shifts aren’t necessary, that still isn’t happening, and in the interim, some employees are being caught in the middle. For the rest of the personal stories out of Foxconn, you should definitely check out the rest of the Times’ report. [NY Times]


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