Foxconn won’t change until the West stops sending mixed messages

Foxconn has admitted that it has been forcing student interns to work overtime.

Will anything change in light of the Foxconn labour violations admissions? Don’t bet on it. Foxconn won’t change until the West stops sending mixed messages about poor working conditions. We berate them with one breath and trip over ourselves to by the latest iPhone the next.

Foxconn has admitted that it has been forcing student interns to work overtime and nightshifts under pain of failing their college courses if they don’t comply.

Foxconn became known to the general public after the spat of suicides at the companies Chinese factories in 2010; after which the company went above and beyond to ensure employee well being, installing suicide nets to catch jumpers and return them safely to the happy and healthy working environment.

The Taiwanese company, listed in Taipei under the name Hon Hai Precision Industries, is the world’s largest consumer electronics maker, working with pretty much every major manufacturer and employing over a million people. Chances are, unless you are Amish, you’ll have used something made by Foxconn.

Some of the students involved spoke to the Chinese media, claiming that more than a thousand of them worked on putting together the upcoming Sony Playstation 4 as well as other basic tasks, none relevant to their studies or teaching them much outside of working in a Foxconn plant making Playstations.

The West’s ability to block this kind of thing out of its collective consciousness signals how dependant we have come on cheap, semi-slave labour happening on the other side of the world.

We must move away from the "it’s fine as long as it’s not happening in my backyard" mentality and let it be known to the tech giants that people won’t buy goods that people have been forced to make for little to no pay, under sub-human conditions.

This, of course, isn’t really possible for the individual. What does Foxconn care if I or even a few thousand people boycott their products? The only way we’ll see meaningful change is if Governments step in and demand reform. I’ll not hold my breath for that to happen.

Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.