Overseas Chinese labor activists and their allies have launched a campaign holding Apple and Foxconn accountable for their gross mistreatment of workers at a Chinese factory that makes half the world’s iPhones. They demonstrated in front of the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City on November 6 and handed out flyers inviting passers-by to sign a petition with the support of labor and community organizations around the world.
Since late October, images showing brutal treatment at one of Foxconn’s largest factories have surfaced online and have even been picked up by official media in China. Videos online have shown workers, eager to escape the virus, hunger and difficult working conditions in the closed factory complex, jumping fences and fleeing despite facing severe weather conditions and long journeys back to their homes. cities and towns of origin.
The factory, located in the city of Zhengzhou in Henan province, is Apple’s largest production site in China. More than 200,000 workers work there. Foxconn is the largest global supplier to Apple and has drawn attention for its poor working conditions, most notably during a wave of suicides at its Shenzhen plant in 2010.
TRAPPED AT WORK
Workers at Foxconn are in the midst of peak production season for the new iPhone 14, and management is eager to deliver on-time delivery promises to Apple.
Since October, the Zhengzhou factory complex has been running an inhumane closed-loop management regime, prohibiting workers from leaving the area. Closed-loop systems require workers to live in the factory complex for a certain period of time, so that the company can maintain production even during China’s regional Covid lockdowns, as well as prevent the likelihood of outbreaks of COVID-19. virus among the workforce.
Despite this approach, new Covid outbreaks still emerged in the complex. But to continue production, Foxconn kept its doors locked, preventing workers from leaving and failing to maintain proper conditions inside.
There were reports that infected workers had been forced to isolate in nearby unfinished dormitory buildings without access to medical services and supplies. Some workers slept on the job to prevent infected workers from living in the same dorms that were not isolated.
For those who were not infected, if they did not go to work, then they could not receive food boxes that are only distributed after work, leaving them without food, since all the restaurants within the complex closed. Workers complained that they also lacked proper protective equipment.
Workers who tried to leave the factory complex were prevented, sometimes by force.
IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF APPLE
This is not the first time Foxconn’s labor practices have come under scrutiny. News reports in 2019 and 2020 revealed that the company employs substantially more dispatch workers than is permitted by Chinese law. Temporary workers, hired through private employment agencies, are common in China and enjoy even less job security than other types of temporary workers. Foxconn failed to provide dispatch workers with proper employment contracts and social benefits guaranteed by Chinese labor law, also a common practice among factories in China.
After videos of fleeing workers surfaced, Foxconn’s parent company, Hon Hai, posted a statement on Oct. 30 saying he will make improvements, ensuring more basic needs for workers (providing three free meals a day and a hotline for workers), offering transportation to those who want to leave, and pledging to reopen some restaurants in the complex. He also announced that he would quadruple bonuses for workers who remained. But he continued to assert closed-loop management practices, a kind of forced labor.
The government’s insistence on strict Covid lockdowns should not give companies an excuse to enact forced labour. Foxconn continues to choose to prioritize profits over the health and human rights of workers.
Apple’s statement last Sunday, released on the day of the New York action, was even more dire. The company stated that it would reduce production capacity in Zhengzhou to “prioritize[e] the health and safety of workers in our supply chain […] as we have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
However, Apple refuses to acknowledge any harm done to workers under its supervision and fails to mention that it has called for an increase in production at another Foxconn factory in Shenzhen.
Chinese state media have yet to adequately report on the conditions of the workers. With information strictly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, we need an independent third party to investigate and uncover the truth.
As the main source of orders for Foxconn, with products purchased by consumers around the world, Apple has a responsibility to organize such an investigation under the supervision of international unions, including US unions and the International Trade Union Confederation.
LONE WOLF PROTEST
Overseas Chinese activists’ response to appalling conditions in Zhengzhou follows a decentralized global movement that echoes a rare lone-wolf protest against the Chinese regime in Beijing last month, just days before the National Congress of the ruling party.
The protester, Peng Lifa, unveiled banners on the capital’s Sitong Bridge, calling on all levels of Chinese civil society to strike and for people to take to the streets in dissent against President Xi Jinping and the party’s autocratic rule.
This triggered a wave of demonstrations around the world by many overseas Chinese, including international students and other young people who reproduced Peng’s demands on posters pasted on college campuses and cities.
While Peng’s demands did not clearly address the capitalist nature of the Chinese state and economy, in his online manifest referred to the plight of migrant workers and other precarious workers, whose exploitation has intensified during the pandemic.
The revelations of conditions at the Zhengzhou Foxconn factory provide further testimony to the fact that China’s authoritarian government cannot divorce itself from its hyper-exploitation of labor for the global commodity economy.
SOLIDARITY ABROAD IS CRUCIAL
The repressive political conditions in China prevent any coordinated and independent mass protest beyond the wild and short-lived actions of lone wolves. Given that, overseas Chinese can play an outsized role in building an effective dissident movement.
This solidarity movement with Foxconn workers by overseas Chinese activists themselves is an important follow-up to the Sitong Bridge demonstrations because it addresses how the Chinese regime’s political power derives from its dependence on its capitalist sector.
A genuine fight for democracy in China involves building a mass movement not only against authoritarianism, but also against authoritarian capital. This requires a critical attitude towards the US and Chinese regimes, which promote the power of multinational corporations to prioritize profits and growth over the lives of workers.
To do this, we must continue to strengthen the links between unions and other labor organizations around the world and this new generation of Chinese activists abroad.
#SupportFoxconnWorkers by signing and sharing the petition here.
Liu Xiang and Ruo Yan are pseudonyms for overseas Chinese labor activists. Pseudonyms were used and the faces in the cover photo were blurred to protect the activists and their families from retaliation by the Chinese government.