Foxconn Hires PR Firm

Psst.. spider, this is a pro-Foxconn post
I promised another post ranking the top ten "bad recycling" practices in Africa, but want to edit it more.  Meanwhile, I just ran across this story about "Foxconn", the western tradename of Han Hoi Precision Group.

Foxconn was one of the companies I discovered in 2002, on my first trip to Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.  As a student of international development, and a rabid crusader against "resource curse" mining, I was fascinated by the contract manufacturers like Foxconn, Wistron, BenQ, Proview, etc.

Today's news, Foxconn hires Burson-Marsteller to hit out at underage worker claims is already being buzzed about in the blogosphere.   Foxconn's tremendous growth has turned into a case study for "gotcha" journalism.  Companies like Apple, Sony, Panasonic, and other contractors are worried about collatoral damage from the scrutiny on the "big secret factory" that makes their Iphones, IPads, laptops, etc. (using USA, Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean and European engineering and designs... and imported raw materials.... and little else from outside China).

According to commentary on Slashdot, to hire a big "spin" firm is something akin to a "cover up".   Burson-Marstellar was hired to manage PR disasters like Tylenol cynanide poisonings, Three Mile Island over meltdowns, and Bohpal chemical spill disaster... and I guess we are supposed to draw some kind of correlation between embarrassing press, regardless whether the company is victim (Tylenol) or conspirator.

I'm quoting myself again, but "it's like recoiling from poverty is being equated with compassion".  I've speculated about some kind of Stephen Pinker evolutionary psychology which causes us to recoil from some things and rush to help others, and how children seem to be a key to pushing our buttons.  Sure enough, the headline is about "underage employees".

So a PR crisis hits this multi-billion dollar company, which is in a tinderbox area of Mandarin v Cantonese, Hong Kong v. Communist, Mainland vs. Taiwan metropolis, a city-opolis the comparable to greater Tokyo.  And they want to work it out quietly and professionally.  They want to get professional advice, respond to critics, make Apple buyers happy, and go on peacefully and productively.

How is this an eyebrow raising story? Is Tylenol somehow like Bohpol? Tylenol was a corporation which was a victim of an attack on its brand and business practice, and hired a PR firm and made changes to bottle caps which are taught as the textbook business response to a press emergency. Having been to Foxconn / Han Hai and worked with people from there, and having read the hysterical descriptions of their operations in the USA press, I think they deserve credit for A) having already identified a scaleability problem (plan to put in robot labor), B) having raised the salaries significantly within weeks of the bad press, and now C) hiring a professional western PR firm to help them in a dilemma in western PR.
I'm not excusing everything that has happened in the course of Han Hoi Precision's growth curve, but they seem to be handling the industrial revolution reform at a pace in years rather than decades. Sure, some of it is reaction to criticism, but rapid response is not the same as "cover up"  

Some commenters seem to have no default setting between fanboy/troll, and any story with Foxconn in a headline becomes 5-Mod v. 0-Mod debate, more like American politics than indication that anyone is in any way concerned about China's development, pollution, or unemployment balance.
Ok, if you can bend down far enough from your high horses, here is the story about Foxconn.  From Pogue's NYT Blog today:

On Tuesday night, ABC broadcast its report. You can watch it online.
To me, the salient paragraph in his script was this:
We looked hard for the kind of underage and maimed workers we’ve read so much about, but we mostly found people who face their days through soul-crushing boredom and deep fatigue. Some complained of being overworked, others complained of being underworked and almost all said they were underpaid. And when I asked, “What would you change?,” we heard the kind of complaints you might hear in any factory anywhere.
It didn’t look like a sweatshop, frankly. The assembly-line work was certainly mind-numbingly repetitive — one woman files the burrs off the iPad’s Apple-logo hole 6,000 times a day — but that’s the nature of assembly-line work. Meanwhile, this factory was clean and modern.
More tellingly, the broadcast showed 3,000 young Chinese workers lining up at the gates for Foxconn’s Monday morning recruiting session.
It is a factory which grew in a decade from 100,000 employees to 1.1 million.   It's owned by Taiwanese.  It employs mostly Cantonese.  Management is heavily recruited from Hong Kong.   And it's govered by the mostly Mandarin, heavily Han, Communist party.
This represents about a billion people who have been in conflict with each other for several decades.  They are working together and turning the Shenzhen-Guangzhou-HongKong basin into a metropolis with the population of Japan.  And they are producing smart phones and IPads and laptops and tablets at dizzy-speed.  The campus in Shenzhen has its own airport and about 600,000 people living it it... it's a city.  Yes, it had a bunch of suicides, but the suicide rate is lower than most cities its size.  Suicide jokes about Foxconn are kind of the equivalent of Postal Worker jokes in the USA... understandable but at some point old and have no business being reported as news.
I hope that Apple and Foxconn hire a bunch of firms and consultants to help them respond to the problems of incredible, rapid growth.  And I hope Wistron and others learn from it and follow suit.
The Geeks story is not as bad as the textiles story, and textiles are not as bad as mining.
At the end of the dang day, people need jobs and they tend to want the best job they can get.  And the tend to get better jobs when they have a choice of jobs.
If you actually care about Chinese people and Indian people and African people, etc., the 83% of the world that's not "as good as Greece" (not in the OECD... draw your own conclusion about that country club), then randomly taking jobs away from people who are poor is not the way to go.
Some people really don't care about the Chinese and Africans.  For some, it's about American greatness, and the poorer the rest of the world, the better off we feel.   Those people have every right to kick Foxconn's when it's down, though best of luck getting the electronics assembly lines back, I believe that ship has long sailed.
What bugs me are people I like and like to hang around with, who think that if someone is poor, that any "trade" is "expoitation".  Jim from BAN actually said that to me at a meeting, that any commerce between rich and poor is inherently unfair, always defaults to abusive.   In that world view, trade is exploitation.   It's something to be sniped at, like the Fair Trade Cotton girl Clarissa who was spreading manure during her school vacations to keep the cotton fields organically fertilized.
To those anti-globalists, trade is exploitation.  You can't help it.  You can only avoid it.
Sounds like... Making love is @$#*king.  You may think you are partners.  But every time you lie down with your wife, the love is fake, its always exploitation, and always abusive.  

Copulation is to be regulated.  Scarlet letters are to be assigned to Foxconn, Fair Trade Cotton, scrap recyclers, and the Geek Rainbow of computer refurbishers. Where is Nathaniel Hawthorne when you need him?
For me, there is a difference between making love and committing rape.  I'm obviously pretty damn sick of the high tech stonings, and pretty impatient for people to let the emerging markets into the darn tent of the world wide web.  What we need is for people to get online, any way they can, as soon as possible, so that the population learns to read before the dictators learn to censor.   This is about dictators trying to delay the internet until they figure out how to control the bloggers and world wide web.  Making new devices affordable, and making used devices available, and "good enough" devices from the clutches of anti-grey-market police, that's the higher mission.  This is about more than waste.
Touche pas a mon pote.
Here's the story, free of charge, if Foxconn wants to do the damage control themselves and save money on Western Spin Doctors.

A voluntary non-slave workforce with choices of places to work is the cure for most workplace ills. For better or worse, Foxconn is a place that people can quit from, and many people do, it's high turnover. For now, Foxconn is better than the textile mills in the area, so it's not a management emergency yet. But they appear to be responding to these complaints, and responding to them professionally to constructive criticism. Personally I like the melting-pot story... when Cantonese and Mandarin and Hong Kong and Taiwanese people find themselves not defined by their language or culture but by the positions (management, labor, services, etc.), creating wealth and resolving problems, it's been a good thing.

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