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Worker Rights Shifting in China, Foxconn Workers to Elect Union Members

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Foxconn, the controversial electronics giant and China’s largest private employer, announced in early February that its workers will be allowed to vote on labor union representation. Later that same week, the Chinese government released a statement promising to raise urban minimum wages by 2015. These two developments seem to indicate progress for Chinese labor rights, but there’s some debate over their practical impact.

Independent labor unions are illegal in China, which means that all unions fall under the wing of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU)–a policy that has been widely criticized by human rights and labor activists, domestically and abroad. The hope is that by allowing workers to elect their leaders at Foxconn, widespread disillusionment will be somewhat assuaged.

Liu Kaiming, an expert on Chinese migrant worker rights and laws, told Women’s Wear Daily that Foxconn’s decision may put pressure on other companies to follow suit, but cautions against praising the Foxconn as trailblazers–“In my eyes,” said Liu, “this trend has been ongoing for about 10 years.” 

Still, labor activists called the decision a fundamental step in developing effective unions, and labor expert Guo Weiqing, a researcher at Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-sen University, said the Foxconn decision does sends a signal. “Foxconn is a world-famous company,” Weiqing pointed out, arguing that if workers feel empowered by the election of their union, it could inspire workers throughout China.

Foxconn, which employs about 1.5 million workers in China, attracted major media attention after a dozen employees committed suicide in 2010. The corporation makes products for almost every major electronics brand, most famously Apple, and has been under increasing pressure to improve its labor image.

[via] Women’s Wear Daily

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