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Foxconn fires back at abuse allegations

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Student Interns

The Global Times reports that the leaked study came down particularly hard on Foxconn's policies regarding student interns. "No contracts are signed with these students, meaning that the company is exempt of paying social welfare," they report, "and due to the lack of supervision, upon being injured at work, interns cover their own medical expenses, without help from either the government or the firm itself."

Not so, says Foxconn. The company, "like many of our industry peers," does run an intern program in cooperation with vocational and technical schools, "who remain responsible for general insurance coverage for the trainees." However, the company claims, Foxconn provides "a full package of compensation and benefits during these internship periods. This includes housing and meals and medical and accident coverage for all trainees."

Workplace Safety

The leaked study, the Global Times reports, alleges that Foxconn is "turning [a] blind eye to safety problems in the workplace," and that the company "violates safety standards imposed by the country."

Foxconn disagrees. "Our policy is to strictly abide by government laws and regulations and industry standards to provide not only proper protection to workers but also to provide regular monitoring of the health of workers who may be involved in areas with potential workplace hazards," they say. The company also insists that its "very strict workplace safety rules and regulations" contribute to what it claims is "one of the lowest industrial accident records in Shenzhen."

In the conclusion of its email rebuttal, Foxconn defends itself against ongoing accusations — in the leaked report and elsewhere — that they treat their employee in an autocratic, heavy-handed, and abusive manner: "Our company policy requires that all management and supervisory staff treat our employees and interns with the highest level of respect," they assert, citing their "formal grievance procedures that all employees can use should they have any issues with any aspect of their treatment by anyone associated with Foxconn."

It goes without saying that "respect" is a highly subjective concept, and that "formal grievance procedures" can be off-putting to a workforce which the leaked study claims includes 16.4 per cent who have been subjected to "corporal violence" and a majority who feel "indignant" towards corporate management.

We are left, then, in a "he said, she said" conundrum. Pay levels, intern benefits, and overtime pay should all be provable by a government investigation with subpoena and discovery powers — but as yet there's no indication when the Chinese government's promised report on its inquiry in the Foxconn spring suicide cluster will be released.

There is, however, one promising development for those "indignant" workers who claim abuse, disrespect, and punishment, and who describe working for Foxconn using terms such as "cage" and "prison": the Global Times, which reported on the leaked study, is affiliated with the Communist Party of China's flagship newspaper, the People's Daily.

It's highly unlikely that a news outlet with such oversight would publish an article critical of Foxconn without the Chinese government's blessing.

Perhaps Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and the rest of the Chinese leadership have decided that its time for their country to present a kinder, gentler industrial image to the world.

Whatever the government's motivation, the Communist Party of China's approval of a critical article could have been a powerful motivator of Foxconn's 1,200-word argument for innocence. ®

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