Foxconn CEO defends labor practices in wake of protest

Apple supplier Foxconn Technology Group has been on the receiving end of continued criticism over its factories’ labor conditions for years. But on Thursday, the company’s CEO let loose his outrage over the complaints.

“Our workers very much love to work at this company,” Terry Gou said. “If I put out a recruitment poster, crowds of people will come. We’re not afraid that we can’t hire workers.”

Gou made the comments at Foxconn’s annual shareholders’ meeting at the company’s headquarters in Taipei. A few hours earlier, outside the building, a small group of representatives of labor protection groups from Taiwan and Hong Kong had protested.

Bearing posters and signs, the 20 or so protestors had come to Taipei to allege that Foxconn’s factories were sweatshops. During the demonstration, a group of Foxconn employees, chanting their love for the company, arrived to confront the protesters.

“This is a publicity stunt,” the employees shouted.

During the shareholders’ meeting, Foxconn’s CEO was insistent that his company had done no wrong. “My factories compare better to other factories in the world,” he said. “I wouldn’t lose in these comparisons.”

Criticism of Foxconn goes back to 2010, when a string of worker suicides at its facilities in China drew widespread attention. Reports from news outlets and labor protection groups have gone on to highlight alleged labor abuses at Foxconn factories, including long working hours and the hiring of underage labor.

Over the years, however, Foxconn and Apple have been working to improve conditions. The company’s factories in China employ more than a million workers, and are known to produce iPhones and iPads in addition to electronics from brands such as Nintendo, Sony and Amazon.

Gou has previously said his factories are better than most in China. But on Thursday, he had particularly harsh words for the U.K. media and Hong Kong labor protection groups that have complained about his company.

“I hate these U.K. small newspapers,” he said, angrily raising his voice. “You should handle your own country’s business.”

Gou went on to accuse U.K. publications of paying Hong Kong labor groups to investigate worker abuses at the company’s factories. These Hong Kong “stooges” then pay cash to Foxconn employees willing to express dissatisfaction, he alleged.

“These reports, and the reports from the Internet, I utterly detest them. I have no time to reply to them,” he said.

“If you don’t trust me, don’t buy my shares. Don’t buy my stock,” he added.

The protestors outside Foxconn’s shareholders’ meeting, however, had a different take. They alleged that although some Foxconn employees enjoy working at the company, many others, especially at the entry level, face low wages. As a result, they have to continually log overtime hours to earn enough to live.

“These workers don’t have a reasonable wage. They don’t have a reasonable working time,” said Liang Pui Kwan, a project officer with Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). The group has been one of the most vocal critics of Foxconn’s labor practices.

In May, SACOM issued a report alleging that conditions at Foxconn factories are still “far from satisfactory.” While the company has raised wages for workers, it has also cut employee compensation in other areas, according to the group.

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