Another Tough Week for Foxconn

written by Articles Editor Emily Kaiser

The manufacturer under fire for a recent explosion at an Apple iPad factory now faces a new controversy: the revelation of minors working in a Chinese facility that manufactures components for Nintendo’s yet-to-be-released Wii U game console.  Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest supplier of technology products, found student interns as young as fourteen working in a plant in Shandong province, where the minimum legal working age is sixteen.  Reuters reported that Foxconn condemned the employment of the 56 underage workers, who began work at the plant after Foxconn had requested the local development zone’s support in addressing a shortage of 19,000 workers.  Student interns comprise approximately 2.7 percent of Foxconn’s total workforce in China, which is estimated to total 1.2 million workers.

In an official statement, Nintendo denounced Foxconn’s employment of underage workers, saying that it would investigate conditions at the Chinese facilities.  Nintendo asserted its “ethical policy on sourcing, manufacture and labor” and the requirement that all of its suppliers comply with international labor norms.

This is the latest of many recent incidents that have called into question Foxconn’s labor practices.  But to what extent will consumer tech companies tolerate these objectionable practices?  Apple’s Tim Cook bristled at the suggestion that Apple “[doesn’t] care” about the workers far upstream in its supply chain.  But, if Apple and its peers, such as Nintendo, Sony, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard, all of which contract Foxconn for manufacture and assembly, care so much, then why do they allow Foxconn to continue engaging in highly questionable labor practices?  Consumer pressure may favor the Foxconn workers.  But let’s not downplay the responsibility of the tech giants, themselves, in demanding suppliers’ labor compliance and implementing sustainable, ethical business models.