Foxconn Worker Struggles in China

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: Booth 41
Distributed Paper
Jenny CHAN , Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom
Mark SELDEN , Cornell University, NY

The Taiwanese multinational corporation Foxconn, which recently soared to number 30 in the Fortune Global 500, holds more than 50 percent of market share in global electronics manufacturing. Its 1.4 million employees at 30 factories across China far exceed its combined workforce in 27 other countries that comprise its global empire. This paper assesses the conditions of Foxconn’s predominantly rural migrant labor workforce, with particular attention to collective agency of workers and the changing character of the workforce.


A new generation of Chinese workers is at the center of just-in-time mass production at Foxconn and other producers. Our research examines the working lives of Foxconn workers on the basis of the intertwined policies and practices of Foxconn, international brands (notably Apple) and the local state, and the diverse forms of collective actions workers deploy to defend their rights and interests. Within the tight delivery deadlines, some workers leveraged their structural power to disrupt production to demand higher pay and better conditions. While all of these struggles were short-lived and limited in scope to a single workshop or factory, protestors exposed injustice of “iSlavery”, garnering wide media attention and civil society support.


A distinctive feature of the labor force is a result of actions by local officials to mobilize 150,000 students as “Foxconn interns” through vocational schools. This helps fulfill corporate needs for short-term labor at times of peak demand, circumventing the law and dragging down social and labor standards. The industrial working class, now composed primarily of young rural migrants and teenage student interns, faces a formidable alliance of capital and the local state. In the “contentious authoritarian system”, notwithstanding the resilience of the state in the face of sustained popular unrest over the last two decades, we highlight that precarious labor in its hundreds of millions is unstable.