Sunday, June 6, 2010


Appeal by concerned international scholars:
Create humane labor standards at Foxconn
and end “stealth manufacturing” in Information Technology!--sign on via

June 8, 2010

The tragic series of suicides among young workers of the “Foxconn City” factory compound in Shenzhen, China, has alarmed the world. Until now, only few people knew that this is the largest electronics factory in the world, employing more than 300,000 workers. The factory is run by a large multinational company from Taiwan, Foxconn (a subsidiary of Hon Hai group), which is one of the largest electronics manufacturing companies in the world. It produces for the most famous brand names in the global IT industry such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Nokia or Sony. Since contract manufacturers like Foxconn and their global customers try to keep their manufacturing operations hidden, this system has correctly been labelled “stealth manufacturing”.

Most of the workers in electronics contract manufacturing and its preferred “low-cost locations” in China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, Hungary and other countries in Eastern Europe earn wages below the prevailing national standards. They work in clean and modern factories, but their work is reminiscent of the assembly lines of the early ages of mass production. The workforce of the new factories is made up of rural migrants, most of them women. As global contract manufacturing has grown, labor standards have collapsed and trade unions have been marginalized.

In reaction to the tragic events at Foxconn, a group of nine Chinese sociologists from leading universities in the country have taken the unusual step of issuing a collective appeal. According to their opinion, the crisis at Foxconn reveals deep-ranging problems in China’s current model of economic development, based on low wages, long working hours, and discrimination against rural migrant workers. They challenge the factory regime at Foxconn and call on the Chinese national and local government and the concerned enterprises to allow migrant workers to become “true citizens of the enterprise”.

From an international point of view, we have to call for rigorous action from multiple parties to establish labor standards, occupational and environmental health, and workers’ dignity in manufacturing world-wide, particularly in supplier manufacturing factories. The noted British business journal The Economist is aptly stating that “a firm and an industry that has become accustomed to obscurity will have to get used to the limelight” (May 29, 2010).

Changes in the labor policies of the contract manufacturing sector must be based on a comprehensive effort to restore transparency and public scrutiny over the contract relations between brand name and contract manufacturing companies. Meticulous attention needs to be devoted to labor, health and environmental standards, as well as to democratic participation of workers at the workplace. The so-called “Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC)” – a code of conduct and mechanism of consultation established by major IT companies – has failed completely to secure basic standards of work, environmental justice and social responsibility throughout the electronics industry and its “supply chains”.

Workers must have a right to:
Representation and collective bargaining by trade unions to defend their interests and rights.
Information about, and protection from, hazardous materials used in manufacturing.
Guarantees of working hours and work intensity that will not threaten physical or mental health.

Communities, government agencies, and the public have a right to know:
What are the working conditions in contract factories and whether the basic rights of workers are respected?
What hazardous materials are used in manufacturing and whether the manufacturing process complies with internationally accepted standards of occupational safety and health?
Where, by whom, and under which conditions brand name products are manufactured?
What are the financial and economic conditions of manufacturing contracts between brand names and their suppliers, and whether suppliers and manufacturers are squeezed?
What impact corporate decisions on the allocation of manufacturing contracts, downsizing and closings of factories, and the establishment of new manufacturing facilities have on communities?

In the light of these urgent questions, we call on the relevant companies and government agencies in China and internationally to support an independent international investigation of the economic, financial and social backgrounds of the tragic events at Foxconn. Such an investigation should be led by the International Labour Organization with participation from independent academic experts, trade unions, labor and environmental NGOs, and other organizations with relevant expertise in the field, excluding those who are linked to corporate interests or have received substantial funding from the affected corporations in recent years.

SIGNATORS: (list in formation; A – Z; as of 6 JUNE 2010, UK Time)

Amanda Bell, Columbia University
Anita Chan, University of Technology, Sydney
Boy Luethje, University of Frankfurt
Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara
Ellen David Friedman, Sun Yat-sen University
John Trumpbour, Harvard University
Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell University
Katie Quan, University of California, Berkeley
Meei-shia Chen, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan
Peter Evans, University of California, Berkeley
Robert Ross, Clark University
Stephen Philion, St. Cloud State University

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