Assistant Professor of Sociology at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program at Cornell University.
Professor of Sociology at The University of Hong Kong.
The ‘story’ behind the book:
Why writing this book?
We were deeply saddened about the loss of more than a dozen young migrant workers’ lives at Foxconn factories in South China during the first five months of 2010. Why did they commit suicide in the prime of youth? We rejected the company explanation even when the so-called experts solicited by Foxconn supported it, that the new generation suffered “psychological problems” and “individual weaknesses” pertaining to “personal troubles” such as dating and debts.
To show that workers’ depression, and self-killing in extreme cases, are connected to their working conditions, the industry, and the wider society, we have since embarked on a journey—much longer than expected—to explore the hidden abode of labor-capital-state relations.
Based on a decade long research in global supply chain analysis, migrant labor studies, and Chinese authoritarianism including the role of the only legal trade union organization, we intended to educate ourselves and the concerned public: the gains of Apple and many others in the global outsourcing structure rest squarely on the value created by workers in China and around the globe. Apple’s business model, characterized by its relentless pressure for just-in-time production of new models and fulfilment of holiday season rush orders, makes it directly responsible for the pressures experienced by workers in Foxconn’s factories and its other contractors.
By anonymizing the identities of our informants and researchers, unless otherwise stated, we aim to amplify the voices of workers at Foxconn (and other suppliers) without jeopardizing them.
But how to change the world that circumscribes the lives of China’s workers in a realm intimately tied to our own societies and our own lives? Against the celebratory literature on global tech firms, especially Apple, our book unveils Chinese worker struggles and environmental activism in the face of reckless capitalist accumulation and environmental havoc, seeking pathways toward the creation of a more sustainable, humane, and fair production system in our digital era.
Worker-led strikes and protests at numerous Foxconn sites, in most cases in defiance of company unions and Chinese state pressures, were part of a pattern of growing labor unrest across coastal and inland China.
We hope to convey a sense of possibility: when workers, with support at home and abroad, unite to reclaim their dignity and protect labor rights, the case of Foxconn—both its present global profile of plants in 29 countries and territories, and its proposed extensions to the US, Europe, Asia and the rest of the world—could inspire a new round of world labor struggles.
Dying for an iPhone provokes rethinking about the China Dream as promoted by President Xi Jinping since 2013. Will the government take firmer action to protect workers in a slowing economy?