Foxconn tarnishes Taiwan
In the US, Apple products are all the rage. However, recently, the company’s products have been a cause of rage since news indicated that conditions at factories in China were appalling. Workers were forced to work long hours and were not compensated for overtime.
The culprit: Foxconn, a Taiwanese company. Most people in the US were only aware that their iPhones and iPads were assembled in China, not that this was done under the authority of a Taiwanese company and that this company’s president, Terry Gou (郭台銘), is a recognized symbol of Taiwanese economic development and wealth.
However, the mask is coming off. Folks are getting to know Foxconn, and unfortunately not under enviable circumstances.
The suicides in November 2010 created the first wave of bad international press for the company. However, new allegations of pay that fails to provide a “living wage” cast a particularly bad light on the company, and by extension Taiwan.
The Financial Times reported on Saturday that Foxconn has “agreed to comply fully with Chinese labor law” in bringing its overtime limit of 80 hours a month down to a more reasonable 36.
What is damaging about this kind of news for Taiwan is that is puts China in a better perspective. Sure, one could argue that Chinese regulators were lax in enforcing their own labor laws. However, the situation reads as an indication that the People’s Republic of China government set forth reasonable labor laws, which were then willfully violated by a Taiwanese company.
Taiwan seems to pride itself on being a cut above many Chinese manufacturers, but Gou and his compatriots at Foxconn are doing everything they can to ruin that image.
Taiwan stands to gain much by presenting itself as a progressive country that prides itself on adherence to fair labor laws and adequate compensation. Likewise, it stands to lose a lot if the opposite can be shown to be true, if managing a million “animals” is a headache for one of the country’s richest men.
Gou’s proclamations of labor reform that were recently covered in the Taipei Times (“Foxconn chairman pledges to raise pay,” April 2, page 12) seem hollow when abuse after abuse is documented in newspapers around the globe and in a report by the Fair Labor Association.
Often the way things appear is more important than they way they actually are, and currently it appears as if Foxconn and Taiwan are falling behind a more progressive China.
San Diego, California