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.

Show Hide image

The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

0800 7318496