Monday, January 23, 2012

Foxconn vs American Workers: A Losing Game

Rallying for their lives

American media is beginning to notice that our low-cost demand for consumer goods and the deep desire for only huge profits by bosses is driving us over an economic cliff. This NYTimes report peeks a little behind the curtains ...

"An eight-hour drive from that glass factory is a complex, known informally as Foxconn City, where the iPhone is assembled. To Apple executives, Foxconn City was further evidence that China could deliver workers — and diligence — that outpaced their American counterparts. 

That’s because nothing like Foxconn City exists in the United States. 

The facility has 230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn’s work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day. When one Apple executive arrived during a shift change, his car was stuck in a river of employees streaming past. “The scale is unimaginable,” he said. 

Foxconn employs nearly 300 guards to direct foot traffic so workers are not crushed in doorway bottlenecks. The facility’s central kitchen cooks an average of three tons of pork and 13 tons of rice a day. While factories are spotless, the air inside nearby teahouses is hazy with the smoke and stench of cigarettes. 

Foxconn Technology has dozens of facilities in Asia and Eastern Europe, and in Mexico and Brazil, and it assembles an estimated 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronics for customers like Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, Samsung and Sony. 

“They could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said Jennifer Rigoni, who was Apple’s worldwide supply demand manager until 2010, but declined to discuss specifics of her work. “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”

The economic engines in China and in Asia are fueled in ways American workers can't or won't work under. It isn't a matter of whether American workers are skilled or not.

Reports on Foxconn's business model are just barely being provided. But the information is grim. And a global solution which might ignite a boom in the American economy is at best a murky concept. It's as if we are debating what kind of boat to take to sea after we have already leapt over the rails of a ship and are swimming away.

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