When a string of suicides strikes at a Foxconn Technology Group (富士康科技集团) factory that assembles the Apple iPhone in China, accusations of worker mistreatment spread quickly in the international press. Even though statistics show that the factory’s suicide rate is lower than the national average and experts and officials both assert that working conditions are legal and better than those of the average Chinese factory, the scandal still continues. Foxconn’s use of Western corporate social responsibility (CSR) codes to compensate for the lax labor policy of the Chinese productivist welfare regime seems to have failed to prevent the growing scandal. Is it possible that the press perceives Western CSR standards as inadequately suited to protect labor rights in a Chinese work environment?
This thesis uses the case study of Foxconn’s CSR scandals to explore the perceived efficacy of CSR in protecting the labor rights of workers in transnational corporations (TNCs) in China. The research focuses on the media scandal that occurred following the publication of a series of three reports by Southern Weekend (南方周末) exploring the realities of workers’ lives at a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen. This thesis uses discourse analysis of citations and paraphrases from the original Southern Weekend reports as its primary methodology. It examines how the concept of CSR exceeds and fails to measure up to the labor rights expectations of the Chinese and American presses. The differences between the expectations of the Chinese and American presses with regards to labor rights are also discussed.
This thesis argues that both American and Chinese presses find standard CSR codes wanting in their protection of labor rights, though each for different reasons. While the American press is more likely to emphasize the dehumanization of workers and shortcomings with regards to wages and overtime, the Chinese press is more likely to discuss workers’ social isolation and broken dreams. This thesis also discusses possible origins of the discrepancy between the priorities of standard CSR codes and the labor rights priorities expressed in the Chinese and American presses, particularly contrasting the Chinese concept of the danwei (单位) with the Western concept of CSR.