Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Foxconn Explosion Wasn’t an Accident

Although the Chinese government had previously said that the explosion at the Foxconn factory was an accident, a Hong Kong workers advocacy group is claiming otherwise. The group alleged on Monday, May 23 that the blast was the result of Foxconn management disregarding work safety at the plant.

"The explosion is not accidental," Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) wrote in a blog post. The blog went on to condemn the conditions at Foxconn’s facilities in mainland China. It also alleged a total lack of inaction on the part of the contract computer and electronic manufacturers including Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

The explosion at Foxconn’s Chengdu facilities in southwestern China killed three people and left more than a dozen workers injured. The explosion occurred in the factory’s “polishing plant” where the aluminum cases for Apple’s iPad 2 are polished. Reports now seem to be linking the blast to combustible “ultra-light” aluminum dust.

"SACOM pinpointed the problem of the aluminum dust in the polishing department in our report in early May," the advocacy group stated. They are referring to a report that the group released on May 6, 2011. The report condemned the alleged failure of Foxconn and its partners to improve the conditions for the workers at the plant in lieu of the string of worker suicides that took place.

"Regrettably, Foxconn turns a deaf ear to SACOM's findings. After the spate of suicides, the blast also affirms Foxconn puts productivity of [the] iPad before workers' lives," the blog continued.

Apple is the most prominent customer of the factories. Foxconn, which is a subsidiary of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, assembles iPads, iPhones and iPods for the company; however, they also provide products for Amazon (the Kindle e-reader), Acer, Asus, Intel, Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Nokia, Sony and Vizio, among a variety of other clients.

In recent years, Hon Hai Precision Industry and its many high-profile customers have been under scrutiny and sparked many controversies with the worker suicide and leaked product design incidents. It was the suicides that really drew attention to the working conditions at the plants, especially its Shenzen plant, which houses more than 420,000 workers inside of the facilities.

After the suicides, Foxconn announced that they would have a series of pay raises that included a 30 percent across-the-board pay hike and a 66-percent performance-based raise for those employees who received good marks following a three-month evaluation. Some of the partners, including Apple, HP and Dell, pledged that they would monitor the pay rate changes at Foxconn to make sure that employees new pay rates, safety and overtime compensation were taken care of.

However, SACOM reported in their May 6 report that these pledges by the partners and the company have not been kept.

SACOM said that when they last visited the Foxconn facilities, there were “anti-suicide nets” in the workers' living spaces, but working conditions and promised compensation allegedly remained completely unaltered.

SACOM also said that Foxconn promised that it would provide adequate personal protective equipment for workers, but the workers do not have this protection and “are not well-informed about the chemical in use.”

SACOM called out Apple in the report that they released May 6 and the blog post that they posted May 23. They alleged that “while Apple commends the measures taken by Foxconn to improve working conditions, SACOM finds [the] predicaments of workers remain.”

"Workers always have excessive and forced overtime in order to gain a higher wage. Workers are exposed to dust from construction site[s] and shop floor[s] without adequate protection. Even worse, they are threatened by [the] potential harm of occupational diseases in various departments. Additionally, a military-styled management is still in practice, characterized by 'military training' for new workers."

According to the International Business Times, Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou said that the explosion will not cause any production delays for the iPad 2.

Close to 30 percent of Apple’s iPad 2 tablets are produced at the Chengdu plant where the explosion occurred; however, the managing director of Ticonderoga Securities said that the production of the iPad 2 will simply move to the Foxconn facility in Shenzhen. This will prevent any supply issues for Apple.

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