The dark side of China’s enduring dream
Posted by Author on May 26, 2010
By David Pilling, The Financial Times, May 26 2010 –
“They were 16 years old, on the loose in one of China’s most chaotic boomtowns, raising themselves with no adults in sight … They missed their mothers. But they were also having the time of their lives.” Factory Girls, Leslie T. Chang
Not everybody is having the time of their life. This week, a 19-year-old worker at the Foxconn electronics plant near the sprawling factory city of Shenzhen in southern China became the fourth employee in two weeks, and the ninth this year, to leap to his death. Two more failed in the attempt. The spate of suicides, coupled with an undercover investigation into conditions at the Foxconn plant by Southern Weekly, a Guangzhou-based newspaper, has shone a spotlight into the darker crevices of China’s factory system. Last week, nine professors of social science wrote an open letter to Foxconn in which they questioned the very sustainability of China’s role as the workshop of the world.
Few people have heard of Foxconn, in spite of the fact that the Taiwanese company employs an army of 300,000 workers at the Longhua plant where the suicides occurred. But most have heard of Apple’s iPad, just one of dozens of electronic devices churned out by Foxconn staff. They also know about Sony, Dell and Nokia, some of the companies whose game consoles, digital cameras, mobile phones and computers are assembled by the company under contract. Foxconn workers – who earn roughly $75 for a 60-hour week – are well acquainted with these brands, though few, if any, can afford them.
The Southern Weekly sent a 22-year-old reporter undercover to work at the Foxconn plant just north of Shenzhen, the city conjured into life by Deng Xiaoping, whose 1992 southern tour declared China open for international business. In addition to the factory floors, where many employees – wearing identical white coats and white caps – sit or stand at their workstations for 12-hour shifts, the city-sized complex has dormitories, shops, restaurants and even its own fire brigade. Now it has a suicide hotline. Southern Weekly’s reporter found staff dulled by the monotony of repetitive tasks, even walking and eating to the rhythm of the rumbling machines.
Factory Girls, Leslie Chang’s brilliantly reported book about female migrants, also makes grim reading at times. Many factories treat their employees as fodder, refusing to employ people because they are too short, too ugly, too old – 30 is over-the-hill – or simply come from the “wrong” province. They rush through orders, even if that means workers are not properly trained on machines that can – and sometimes do – slice off a finger. They demand employees work long hours, though most are only too happy to do so because of the overtime pay they receive. They often keep back a month of pay, lest their workers find a boyfriend, or a better job, in another factory……. (more details from The Financial Times)
- Click to email (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
- Click to print (Opens in new window)
This entry was posted on May 26, 2010 at 9:30 pm and is filed under Asia, Business, China, Company, Economy, News, People, Social, Trade, Worker, World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.