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The Foxconn Management Style

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In the People’s Republic of China there is a long, storied history of human rights violations- it is, after all, the land of the Long Gao Dui prison camps and most of the businesses in the Forbes 500 within China’s boundaries are state-owned. The Gou’s, however, escaped China when Foxconn’s CEO was a child to live in Taiwan. So, it is difficult to mitigate the harsh management style the world has heard about inside the confines of Foxconn.

Migrant workers at the largest production facility in Longhua typically come from impecunious families in desolate homes. They are 18-25 years old and are desperate to, somehow, make their way in the world.  Every day, there is a mob scene of thousands of such migrants at the doors of Foxconn to apply for work, so there is certainly no shortage of workforce in China. Where else in the world would so many, so young come in droves to work for about $2.00 (US) and doing a set of 1-2 menial tasks repetitively for 60 hours per week?

A workday typically begins by waking up in a dormitory about the size of a garage with 7 other people, all using a shared bathroom, to get ready. Since one must be at their workstation early, it is best to leave an hour before one’s shift.

Before lining up at a workstation, workers typically have to put on a white uniform over their clothes and rubber boots.  In many instances a face mask is essential, due to the dust and chemicals in the environment.  

There are no phones or electronics allowed in the work station, so any smart phones must be left behind (although, most workers cannot afford such luxuries at most Foxconn facilities). Workers stand at their work station when a supervisor comes into the room. The supervisor shouts loudly, “How are you today?!” Workers are then required to shout back in unison, “Good, Thank you!” This is done to kick start the day with all workers acknowledging they are alert and ready.

Talking to other workers on the line is strictly prohibited.  Workers are allowed two ten minute breaks each day and a ½ hour break for lunch.  If one arrives and commences work at 8AM, it is typically not until after 9PM that one leaves work for the day.

If an employee needs to use the restroom, they must raise their hand and wait until management finds a replacement for their spot in line to use the restroom.  Should an employee make a mistake, they are expected to stand in front of their coworkers at the end of the day and give a verbal confession to their mistake while being berated by a supervisor.  

The panoptic military style of management is driven by a wholly volume business. With margins of 1.7%, Foxconn’s goal is to build 350 cell phones per minute- the Foxconn core values are, hence, driven by the capitalistic need to “make margins” and nothing more.  A U.S. based “China Labor Watch” group has regularly asserted that working conditions are not acceptable.

To add irony to the situation, Communist leader Xi Jinping has called upon Foxconn to improve working conditions at their plants and suggest that CEO Terry Gou “treat the workers like they were his grandchildren”.

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