In a period of five months, eleven employees of Foxconn have commited suicide. This is indeed a tragedy and Foxconn needs to do something about it to prevent future suicide attempts. But are these tragedies entirely Foxconn’s fault? Who is the true devil behind the mask?
Everybody knows that China is the world’s factory. Compared with the United States or Europe, factories are far less expensive to build and the labor supply is massive and cheap. This labor force is largely made up of the first generation of migrant workers and their grown up children. They were all born and grew up in the countryside, and have left their hometowns in search of better jobs in the city. They stay in the cities and work to make sure that their children can hope for a better life than that of a sweatshop laborer.
An unwritten rule in Foxconn appears to be “don’t recruit anyone over 28″ – 80% of its employees were born in the 80s and 90s. Unlike their father’s generation, they have been raised with the idea that education is the key to upward economic mobility. After spending their family’s entire savings on four years of university, what kind of job can they hope to obtain? They cannot get a job in state-run companies or the high tech industry, and because of sheer overwhelming competition and black-box trading becoming a civil servant is out of the question. They end up getting a job at Foxconn, which requires none of the skills they gained from school, but simply asks them to perform a job anybody could do, repeating the same motions day after day.
Why can’t they find a promising job with their degree? Why did they end up working at Foxconn? The education system in China is the biggest problem, and the government is the most at fault. The education system here is not designed to develop creativity or diversification, but instead is used for brainwashing and promoting the conservative political agenda. The only thing they teach that is up-to-date is Mao Deng San.* Now they are adding new stuff, such as harmonious theory and Hu’s Eight Honors and Eight Shames. What other classes are offered? Computer classes on Windows 2000, for example, or Office 2002, Basic and Visual Basic, and website design using Microsoft’s FrontPage…
Well, I think that unless schools start teaching students how to travel back in time, they will have an impossible time finding work using techniques from the 90s. This is what they get after three or four years of higher education: a useless diploma, debt, and a low paid job that barely requires a brain.
Image this: you get a position at Foxconn and work essentially as a robot on a production line, doing exactly the same thing every day for twelve hours, six or seven days a week. By the end of every month you receive a salary of 2,500rmb, more than half this amount coming from overtime. You don’t get a chance to make friends in the factory because you cannot talk to anyone while working the assembly line, and you work so much overtime that you’re left with no free time or energy for socialization after work. Day after day, month after month, you are doing same thing over and over, seemingly without end. You do not have friends, and your parents are too far away.
But most importantly, you know this is all you can hope to achieve. You are already extremely lucky to have this job. It is much better than working at a local factory, where workers must endure horrific pollution and dangerous working environments. So much better than those who stand in the middle of the intersection guiding traffic and pedestrians, working 12-hour days, 6 days a week for only 1200 RMB every month.
If not even a shred was left of your dreams or expectations, would you jump?!
Foxconn is really not as terrible as the media would have you think. Foxconn is an enormous Taiwanese manufacturer with 800,000 employees in China. It does not delay payment, it pays for insurance, everyone has a contract, and employees do not need to worry too much about safety and pollution. They are treated as human beings. You won’t be able to get the same deal in any other local factories in Shenzhen, and the workers know that. The 2,000 people lining up every day outside Foxconn looking for jobs are the strongest indication of this fact.
But why don’t we hear anything in the news about the other local factories, only Foxconn? Because usually those local factories have some kind of connection with the government, or have been opened by people that are in the system. Don’t mistake these news reports for a glorious accomplishment in free speech. Foxconn is just a Taiwanese company, and it is safe and politically acceptable for Chinese newspapers to attack it without worrying about government retaliation. The Chinese media are just a bunch of gutless hacks that don’t have the courage to do anything that could be considered real reporting. (Some reporters excluded.)
The only possible solution for this is a revolution on the industrial chain. We cannot be the world’s factory and base our economy on cheap labor and massive population any longer. We need creative companies like Apple, Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, not the short-sighted Shanzhai factories churning out copies. But this won’t be easy as China as a whole is already fatally ill. You can’t find creative people in China because the education system has already torn off all of their individual features. You can’t find a company or institution that will pay you to do any long-term research because everybody is focusing on how to make money quick. Everybody is already poisoned by the consumerism and cynicism that are set free by a government with means. We have together, hand in hand, exploited and ripped off these migrant workers. We are deadened and blind in a doomed kingdom that has been built on their blood and our apathies.
*Mao,Deng, San- A nick name of 《毛 泽东思想和中国特色社会主义理论体系概论》, which is the only mandatory political course for university students. It’s formal name is 《毛泽东思想、邓小平理论和“三个代表”重要思想概论》. Which is too long that nobody is willing to say its full name. So they just call it 毛邓三. It is a class that contains Marxism, Maoism, Dengism, Jiangism, Huism and will contain Xiism in the future for sure…I hope not, those kids already have too much to memorize…
PS: Here is an interesting translated article from EastSouthWestNorth, talking about the same thing I am talking about (it will have the link to the Chinese site as well.)
More Pictures about local factories in China: Here, Here and Here. (Alex Hofford did a great job of shotting Chinese factories, however, I cant find them on his website, but only on a Chinese blogger’s blog…)
May 30, 2010 at 9:10 pm Comment (1)