Monday, February 04, 2013
Although things are never quite the same as they appear, this might be an important step in Chinese labor relations. Asian countries for too long have exploited workers and as a result, have become the workshop of the world. Workers have long realized their condition and are doing something about it. It is fair to say, however, that a union at Foxconn would not have come about without outside pressure from customers and activist groups. Foxconn's answer to suicides at its plants was to string netting around its buildings to catch falling bodies, a solution but not an effective response to long hours and tedious work. If a union is effective in representing workers at Foxconn's plants, the cost of manufacturing will rise, and Foxconn will have an incentive to reduce body count in favor of robots. Union pressure, in other words, has to be calibrated. It can't push the company too far but it is important that it serve as a line monitor for Foxconn's mammoth workforce. If the union is successful and Foxconn adjusts, it could serve as a human resource model for the rest of China, an extraordinary example of smart PR.