The Conditions of Migrant Workers in Shenzhen: A Discussion with a Rural Migrant Workers’ Rights Activist

by Shui Mui, China Left Review (Issue # 4) — (researcher, mainly focusing on migrant workers and labor-capital relations)

In March, 2009, I interviewed a Shenzhen based migrant workers’ rights activist. The interview helps us better comprehend the current conditions of migrant workers in China.

1. Workplace Injuries

A Hong Kong NGO put out a report (Arms and Legs), which discussed workplace injuries in China. At present in Shenzhen, many factories adopted new machinery equipped with infrared technologies, which could help prevent workers’ injuries. But that didn’t mean that older machinery left the Chinese scene altogether, it just moved inland. Still, Shenzhen’s rate of workplace injuries did not decrease, they only became more intense. Many 18-25 year old workers who just started working were injured in the first few days of work. This was because at many factories there was no training for newly hired workers.

Small factories owned by local investors are well below standard. When workplace injury related incidents occur, bosses frequently jump ship. Many workers’ injuries are not covered by regulations on the books that ensure workplace injury insurance. Electronics and shoe factories use a great amount of chemicals during production, without needed measures to prevent workplace poisoning. Smaller scale factories are especially weak in this area. Most of the workers in electronics factories are women, accounting for 70-80 percent of the workforce. Their work has a great impact on their reproductive systems, and the frequency of their falling ill is quite high. This is not only a problem for individual women workers, it also affects the next generation of offspring. One of the staff at University of Science and Engineering opened a battery factory where the majority of women workers fell ill to cadmium poisoning. One of these workers gave birth to an infant with a large black stripe on its body, which no one could explain. There have emerged many new chemicals used in factories are not covered by Chinese law. It’s estimate that in the next few years, rates of factory dust related lung disease will surge. This amounts to the end of the incubation period for diseases acquired since the process of economic liberalization began. Grinder’s disease, especially prevalent among miners, has already ended countless workers’ lives. Others with the disease are simply waiting to die.

Since the labor shortage that started in 2004, it should be noted that women workers are also finding it easier to secure jobs. Because women are regarded as more physically nimble, more obedient thanks to traditional culture in the countryside, much like previous generations of women workers in Korea, factory owners are predisposed to hiring them. Furthermore, if women workers look to fight for their rights, they typically have a much harder time than male counterparts. Continue reading

With the iPhone 5 come new accusations of Foxconn abuse

September 16, 2012

In this May 26, 2010 file photo, staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. China’s economy surged 10.3 percent in 2010, spurred by a torrent of investment in property and other areas that also fanned politically volatile inflation. Figures released Thursday Jan. 20, 2011, by the National Statistics Bureau showed inflation moderating in December from a 28-month high in November as food prices eased, but analysts warned that was likely temporary. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

The new iPhone 5 isn’t even on the shelves yet, and already Applehas seen its stock surge.

The company, which became the world’s most valuable publicly listed company ever in August, said it expects to offload up to 33 million units this quarter. Analysts say supply constraints won’t be a problem this time for the bigger, slimmer iPhone 5.

And while that’s good news for Apple’s shareholders, its bad news for anyone who may have been forced or poorly paid to make one of their products.

That’s right, Foxconn, the electronics company that manufacturers components for Apple, is also back in the news this week.

Chinese state-run media reported that the Taiwan-based company had forced university students to take internships at Foxconn factories to help make the new iPhone 5. Not long after that public relations blow, Foxconn revealed Wednesday that another Chinese worker committed suicide at one of its factories.

Foxconn says the worker “fell to his death” on Wednesday, and that it was “unclear” whether police were investigating the death as a suicide.

After a spate of suicides and repeated accusations of labor abuse, Foxconn agreed last March to improve the working conditions of its 1.2 million employees who make iPhones, iPads and other electronics. Foxconn said it would hire more workers to reduce overtime and improve safety and living conditions.

Both the China Daily and Shanghai Daily reported last week that classes had been suspended at some universities in eastern Jiangsu Province in order for students to be bused to factories to make up a shortfall in dwindling staff numbers.

In a statement provided to Bloomberg, the world’s largest electronics maker denied that the teenagers were forced to man production lines for the new iPhone.

Schools “recruit the students under the supervision of the local government, and assign teachers to accompany and monitor the students throughout their internship. The internship programs range in length from one to six months and students are free to leave the internship program at any time,” the statement read. Continue reading

AFP: Crackdown on China workers’ rights groups

Agence France-Presse, 10 September 2012

Around 10 groups that offer help to the millions of migrant workers living  and working in Shenzhen have suffered random inspections and evictions, some of  which turned violent, said the letter seen by AFP on Monday.

“Police have failed to prevent labour organisations from being evicted from  their offices for unknown reasons, sometimes even violently,” said the letter  signed by 20 scholars and sent to the city and provincial governments Sunday.

The Dagongzhe Migrant Worker Centre was one of the first to be caught in  the crackdown, with workers evicted from their offices in July after the water  and electricity supply to their office was shut off by local authorities.

Another, the Hand in Hand Workers’ Home, was evicted from its offices on  Sunday, while local government staff confiscated property belonging to a group  called The Little Grass Workers’ Home last month, staff there told AFP. Continue reading

The Deadly Labor Behind Our Phones, Laptops and Consumer Gadgets

At this Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, 300,000 workers produce iPads, iPhones and other best-selling consumer items

by Sophia Cheng
Thursday, September 1 2011

The world’s largest electronics manufacturer, Foxconn Technology Group, has a plan for ending the grisly run of worker suicides that have drawn it unwanted attention over the past two years: replace human workers with one million robots. It seems the best way to interrupt rising global outrage over worker abuse in iPhone factories is to just get rid of the workers.

With a labor force of 1.2 million people, Foxconn is China’s largest private employer and biggest exporter. It manufactures familiar products for the U.S. market. Through contracts with Apple, Motorola, Nokia, Hewlett Packard, Dell and Sony, it makes the computers, phones, laptops and printers that we use every day—including the iPhones and iPads that many people will use to read this very article. Continue reading