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"The Future of Labour in Europe in China-led Globalisation. A Case Study of Foxconn."
Based on ethnographic research carried out between March and September 2014 in Foxconn's factories and in the working-class district of Ciudad Juárez (Mexico), this paper analyzes some aspects of the role of gender in globalized industrial production for export. In particular, the ethnographic analysis suggests that the symbolic and discursive practices adopted by the corporation management and by the institutional apparatus for gender equal opportunities obscure the degradation processes to which women are subjected in both labor and reproductive processes. Furthermore, research highlights how these practices aim to transform the subjectivity of the workforce by bending it to the needs of global businesses and the patriarchal system. Finally, the analysis of the empirical material highlights how the female workers themselves, through direct and symbolic action, counteract this process of degradation.
In Europe, as elsewhere in the global North, the label “Made in China” has become synonymous with low wages, excessive overtime, and exploitative working conditions. Conventional literature on the international division of labor reifies the North–South divide in particular with respect to class formation and labor agency. Contrasting the working conditions in China to those in Europe sets these up as opposites in their managerial practices and treatment of the workforce. This article challenges such dualism and makes visible the commonalities of contemporary global capitalism. It does so by examining Foxconn’s production regimes in China and the Czech Republic and identifying a specific set of strategies on the part of the firm that enable its global organization of production. In indicating which practices Foxconn imported from China and which are an outcome of global extended production, the article challenges the Chinese political economy literature that posits the “Chinese model” as warranted when production is globally organized.
This article shows that global production networks rely on a specific combination of economic and political elements and that labor composition in each production node is specific to the location and contingent on state regulations. The assembly and management of a differentiated labor force are keys to understanding how these networks are constructed. By focusing on the specific composition of the workforce inside the supply chain, we underline how the differences in each node of production are managed to hinder conflict in the workplace. We analyze how the new geography of production takes into account these differences within the context of three Foxconn factories.
Starting from the 2000s Foxconn invested in Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Russia and Turkey, implementing a territorial diversification strategy aimed at getting nearer to its end markets. This chapter investigates the development of Foxconn in Turkey where the multinational owns a plant with about 400 workers. A few kilometres from the city of Çorlu and close to highways, ports and international airports, the plant enables Foxconn to implement an efficient global supply chain. We illustrate this process by examining the company’s localisation within a special economic zone, underlining the economic advantages derived from such a tax regime, bringing labour costs down to the Chinese level and obtaining proximity to European, North African and Middle East customers, thus lowering logistic costs. We also analyse the roles of labour flexibility and trade unions. In order to impose far-reaching flexibility on its workers Foxconn put in place a range of strategies, including an hours bank system, multitask operators and the recruitment of apprentices thanks a special programme funded by the state. We show how these have been crucial for Foxconn’s just-in-time production contrasting its labour turnover problem. Finally, we highlight how the company has been able to implement a flexible working pattern, weaken the trade unions and undercut workers’ opposition, thanks to favourable labour laws approved by successive governments in the past thirty years.
This edited volume investigates restructuring in the electronics industry and in particular the impact of a ‘Chinese’ labour regime on work and employment practices in the electronics assembly in Europe. It studies Foxconn, the world largest electronics manufacturing service provider and the main assember of Apple's iPhone and iPad. The authors examine in detail whether work and employment practices established in mainland China have been exported to factories in Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Turkey, and how these practices have been adapted to the social actors and institutional context of the European host country. The book thus provides a basis for identifying challenges involved in organising workers and opportunities for improving working conditions in the electronics industry through labour representation. It is available here: https://www.etui.org/Publications2/Books/Flexible-workforces-and-low-profit-margins-electronics-assembly-between-Europe-and-China
Based on an empirical research on Foxconn plants in the Czech Republic, the aim of this article is to analyze how global production networks enable a time and space compression of the production process. In this way Foxconn is able to respond to the just-in-time requests of the market, while at the same time keeping the conflicts with the plant at minimum. We suggest that such a working of the global production networks is contingent on the socio-institutional context and on the composition of the workforce. These two aspects are key for the fulfilment of Foxconn's production needs as they offer necessary conditions for the compression of space and time of the workforce. The time-space compression is upheld by the international recruitment agencies that select, recruit and transport workers from their countries of origin to the Czech plants and manage the workforce both inside and outside the factories. The article examines three key nodes of this space-time compression: the recruitment of the workforce, the organization of production, and the management of reproduction.
Next to its 32 factories in mainland China, Foxconn has another 200 factories and subsidiaries around the world on which there is little or no data. This article focuses on plants in the Czech Republic, Foxconn's most important European site and the hub for export-oriented electronics industry. It asks whether there are similarities between Foxconn's Chinese and European sites, two locations commonly imagined as separate and opposite in their management practices and treatment of the workforce. Drawing on sixty interviews with workers and privileged informants, the article outlines the labor process, forms of control, composition of labor, the role of the state, and the reach and impact of the trade unions in Foxconn's Czech plants. It makes visible the deterioration of working conditions in the Czech Republic, both under European Union regulations and just-in-time production by multinationals, and suggests that in order to understand the ongoing changes there is a need to move away from the idea of labor and labor markets as solely domestic actors, and toward a discussion on globally integrated politics of production.
This article investigates the role of temporary work agencies (TWAs) at Foxconn’s assembly plants in the Czech Republic. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, it shows TWAs’ comprehensive management of migrant labour: recruitment and selection in the countries of origin; cross-border transportation, work and living arrangements in the country of destination; and return to the countries of origin during periods of low production. The article asks whether the distinctiveness of this specific mode of labour management can be understood adequately within the framework of existing theories on the temporary staffing industry. In approaching the staffing industry through the lens of migration labour analysis, the article reveals two key findings. Firstly, TWAs are creating new labour markets but do so by eroding workers’ rights and enabling new modalities of exploitation. Secondly, the diversification of TWAs’ roles and operations has transformed TWAs from intermediaries between capital and labour to enterprises in their own right.
There is currently a large knowledge gap about intra-European labour migration. Commentators are caught up in a debate over whether such movement is best understood in terms of social dumping and hence a race to the bottom, or in terms of business opportunities and benefits for firms, states and mobile workers. The argument put forward in this article is that both approaches are inadequate in that they focus attention on a linear east-to-west Europe movement and discuss it from the vantage point of the state, businesses and trade unions in the country of destination. In order to gain a clearer understanding of emerging migration patterns in the enlarged Europe this article adopts mobility of workers as the analytical lens through which to examine the integration of labour markets as well as the tensions between capital, trade unions and labour to which mobility gives rise. Building on fieldwork conducted at Foxconn electronics assembly plants in the Czech Republic, the article suggests that the term ‘multinational’ worker is best suited to convey the experiences and practices of this emergent workforce.