Friday, June 18, 2010

Taiwan profs shame Taiwanese corporation for suicides in China

A Taiwan-owned multinational’s behavior in China has sparked unexpected controversy in Taiwan, thanks in part to the protests of 150 Taiwanese academicians.

The controversy, headline news on TV last Sunday, June 13, and front page headlines in most newspapers on Monday, pits the academicians and other critics against the mighty Foxconn Technology Inc., key assembler of Apple i-Phones, whose Shenzen plant suffered a series of worker suicides this year.

After a suicide in April. two young sociologists drafted a letter calling attention to the intense pressures faced by the Foxconn workers to work illegally excessive overtime, and asked the company to stop blaming the latest victims as copycats. Widely circulated in the academic community, the letter gradually gained the signatures of 150 professors of sociology, psychology, public health, gender studies, and law, among others.

The day after the letter was publicized at a press conference, the universities of the academic signers were flooded with phone calls and emails: the academics knew nothing about work and were overpaid fat cats that Taiwan can do without.

More important, the prime minister, Wul Den-Yih, called the academics unfair and politically motivated. Public sentiment generally had a nationalist reaction, as though any criticism of Foxconn and Terry Guo, president of its parent company, were an attack on Taiwan.

Nor did the 150 academics gain popularity with one of their key demands, as described by Hsin-Hsing Chen, associate professor of the Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies: that “the public pension funds divest themselves of any Foxconn stocks until the company shows substantial improvement in its compliance with China’s labor laws.”

This week, China Times, one of the biggest newspapers in Taiwan, chimed in with a different note for the media. It editorially criticized Guo’s attitude toward the 150 professors, and had the following analysis of a widely publicized pay raise that Foxconn granted at the Shenzhen plant:

“Just as Foxconn announced the enormous pay raise in his [Guo’s] Shenzhen plants, they also announced massive relocation of production out of Shenzhen into the low-wage inland provinces. They can do that because their products like iPods are less bulky and the transportation costs are low. But other foreign-owned manufacturers in the high-wage coastal areas in China with bulkier products such as food or cars cannot do that. Guo is scheming against his competitors while trying to win his PR campaign.”
Meantime, some other foreign-invested plants in China, faced with strikes or a labor shortage, were boosting wages. These management concessions may test whether money alone will satisfy the workers, or whether their discontent runs much deeper. Might the workers even be seeking some form of social transformation?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please refer to the website for the petition: