August 16, 2015

Foxconn in India

FOXCONN, the world’s largest contract manufacturing company for consumer electronics, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to set-up a factory in Maharashtra with an investment of $ 5 billion (Rs 32,000 crores).  The Taiwan based Hon Hai Precision Industry Company, whose trade name is Foxconn, has become a giant manufacturing company which, on contract, supplies all the leading electronic companies like Apple, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Samsung and others.  That such a company is setting up hardware manufacturing facilities in India is noteworthy.  But Foxconn has another reputation that one has to be wary about. 

Foxconn enterprises are the most exploitative in the global supply chain of labour.  Foxconn’s biggest manufacturing facilities are in China where it employs a workforce of 900,000 workers.  The low wages, long working hours, forced overtime and various other exploitative labour practices led to a series of strikes in Foxconn factories around China between 2010 and 2013.

The intensity of the exploitation and abuse of labour was such that, in a single year in 2010, at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, 13 workers committed suicide. Altogether 17 workers attempted to kill themselves. All those who died were young workers.  Foxconn has also the record of using students from technical schools as “interns” and making them work like regular workers with half the wages. 

The exploitation of workers in China by Foxconn, who are mainly producing Apple products like iPhone, drew worldwide concern. It is the strikes and struggles of the workers in Foxconn factories and other industries in China that finally led to substantial increase in the minimum wages notified for industrial workers.

The Maharashtra project is not the first Foxconn entry into India.  It had earlier set-up a manufacturing facility in Chennai which was mainly supplying equipment for the Nokia factory there.  It employed 1,800 permanent workers and 6,200 contract workers.  The Foxconn, like many other multinational companies, did not want a union organised by the workers. When the workers joined a union affiliated to the CITU, the management began victimising the workers and it led to a strike in October 2010.  Given the obdurate refusal to recognise the union, finally the matter went to court which gave a decision to accord recognition to the union in 2014.  By then, Foxconn decided to close down its facility on the plea that the Nokia factory had shut down.

Foxconn is returning to India and investing in Maharashtra expecting it can carry on with its anti-labour practices. It may get encouragement from the fact that the BJP-led government in Maharashtra has got a legislation passed in the assembly amending the labour laws on the lines of what the other BJP governments had done in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.  For instance, the amendment to the Industrial Disputes Act will now enable factories with 300 workers and less to retrench, or lay off workers without prior clearance.  By this, 95 percent of the industrial units in Maharashtra will be out of the purview of this safeguard for workers.

Foxconn must be forewarned that it cannot adopt an anti-union stance.  The right to organise and form unions is the basic right of the workers in India.  Unfair labour practices will be opposed and resisted by the working class movement.  The Maharashtra government has to be put on notice that it should not, in any way, connive with Foxconn in violating the rights of the workers.


(August 12, 2015)


Muzzling the Media


THE BJP government has taken an authoritarian step in issuing show cause notices to three television channels, ABP News, NDTV 24×7 and Aaj Tak for their coverage and debates on the Yakub Memon execution.  The information and broadcasting ministry has sent the notices under the Cable Television Network Rules which claim that the channels telecast remarks denigrating the judiciary in the case of one channel and were defamatory, or, likely to incite violence and promote anti-national attitudes in the case of the other two channels.  What is being objected to are discussions in which there were criticisms either on the way the trial was conducted, or, the appeals to the judiciary and the president were disposed off.  Some in the debates also argued that the death penalty was not warranted. 

The instance quoted in one of the notices is where Majeed Memon, a well-known  lawyer and NCP leader criticised the way one of the accused was made approver while Memon was dealt with severely. In no way can this be construed to be denigrating the judiciary.  Any one has the right to criticise a judgment of the court; it is only contempt of the court if aspersions are cast on the judge, or, motives ascribed. It is not for the ministry to sit in judgment over what is construed to be denigration of the judiciary. 

The show cause notices asking why the licences of the concerned channels should not be suspended is a brazen attempt to muzzle the media.  The intention is to exercise censorship of the content in the media.  The I & B  ministry is displaying the same  intolerance and vindictiveness which is being displayed by the BJP and the RSS which brands all dissent and opposition as anti-national or threats to national security. Thus, Teesta Setalvad has become a threat to national security and all those who oppose the imposition of Hindutva diktats are deemed to be anti-national.  Freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in the Constitution, cannot be violated in this manner.  The Modi government should withdraw the show cause notices forthwith.

(August 12, 2015)