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Foxconn plans union elections in China

7 February, 2013Foxconn, the electronics manufacturing giant, is preparing to conduct elections for a representative labour union in its Chinese factories. The move follows severe criticism from trade unions and human rights groups for workers’ suicides, poor working conditions and employment relations at the company.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, for the first time Foxconn in China has been preparing to conduct elections for a representative union. It is expected that the elections will be conducted by July 2013 and it will have larger representation of junior employees with no intervention from the management. The firm aim to hold secret ballot elections for a chairman and 20 members of its Federation of Labour Union Committee every five years.

The report also suggest that, Foxconn, with the help of US based Fair Labor Association (FLA) (http://www.fairlabor.org) will train its Chinese workers in how to vote for their representatives. Earlier in February 2012, FLA launched an investigation into working conditions in Foxconn. The investigation report highlighted problematic labour practices and suggested remedial actions. The report found that, among many issues, the majority of the workers were not aware of factories’ safety and health committees and workers’ representation in decision making bodies. The management used to nominate supervisors or managers as candidates for election and the committees used to be dominated by management representatives.

The report stated that Foxconn has agreed to enhance workers’ participation in committees and other union structures in line with the trade union laws in China to conduct elections without management interference.  In addition, all workers will receive a copy of the collective bargaining agreements and new employees would receive information on union activities during their orientation process. 

However, even after this commitment expressed in March 2012 and the launch of remedial action, there were incidents of rioting and unfair labour practices. After such a long period it is unclear as to how this commitment will be implemented, how transparent the process will be and what percentage of union leaders will be workers democratically elected by their co-workers. More importantly effectiveness of the representative union also depends on legal protections to elected representatives at all levels.  

According to Geoff Crothall, spokesman for Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, any union must be a member of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which may choose to conduct collective bargaining instead of allowing Foxconn workers’ representatives to deal with management. (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/biz/archives/2013/02/05/2003554242)

While trade union activists welcome union elections in Foxconn, in the backdrop of past experiences (http://www.industriall-union.org/apples-new-products-increase-pressure-on-foxconn-workers), it is hoped that it will not be a mere public relations stunt by the company.

Good Electronics released a statement on Apple and its supply chain, expressing doubt about how the elections will function at Foxconn: http://goodelectronics.org/news-en/goodelectronics-is-keeping-an-eye-on-apple.-statement-re.-apple-2013-supplier-responsibility-report-1