At first, you’d think the image above is a jail. But it is not. It is the Foxconn factory in China where iPhones and all such other snazzy gadgets are assembled. Why does it look like a jail? No, the workers do not run away like criminals do from jails. Here, they jump to their death. Those are suicide nets to prevent workers from jumping to their death due to the extremely exploitative nature of the job. And guess what? There are other companies in China in which the rate of suicide is higher than that of Foxconn. That is the grim story of the manufacturing industry in China.
This short anecdote from a 2012 New York Times article will demonstrate the level of exploitation that goes on at Foxconn:
One day last summer, Pu Xiaolan was halfway through a shift inspecting iPad cases when she received a beige wooden chair with white stripes and a high, sturdy back.
At first, Ms. Pu wondered if someone had made a mistake. But when her bosses walked by, they just nodded curtly. So Ms. Pu gently sat down and leaned back. Her body relaxed.
The rumors were true.
When Ms. Pu was hired at this Foxconn plant a year earlier, she received a short, green plastic stool that left her unsupported back so sore that she could barely sleep at night. Eventually, she was promoted to a wooden chair, but the backrest was much too small to lean against. The managers of this 164,000-employee factory, she surmised, believed that comfort encouraged sloth.
That’s Foxconn for you, where even a backrest for workers slogging 16 hours a day was not provided for years. At one point, a couple of media organizations partnered up and managed to get into Foxconn disguised as workers and captured the state of affairs using hidden cameras. What they saw in there was absolute horror. Search Youtube for “Foxconn” and you can see some of the videos.
Recently, Foxconn has also found mention in Indian media outlets. They announced that they would become a part of “Make in India” – Mr Modi’s dream of converting India into a manufacturing hub akin to China. One of the main companies that Foxconn is in touch with is the Adani Group owned by Gautam Adani, Mr Modi’s prime election sponsor.
Which raises the question, if Foxconn’s business model in China is to exploit workers till they get suicidal, what would be their business model in India? Especially, if they wish to make more profit than they already do in China?
The answer to the above question is quite obvious. And yes, that is the vision of oh-so-visionary Narendra Modi. Make in India is nothing but a copy-cat concept from China as part of which companies from all over the world come to India and are given Indian labour on a platter. Here take them and suck the blood out of them.
Alright. But how do you exploit Indian labour the way they’ve been exploiting Chinese labour? After all, Indian workers had one of the biggest show of strength as recently as September 2nd, 2015, when 150 million workers participated in an all India strike. In a country, where unions are still wide-spread, even if not as effective as they used to be about 2 decades back, how does one create labour conditions as exploitative as that of China?
That’s where the Rajasthan Lab of Dilution of Labour Laws comes in. In Nov, 2014, President Mukherjee gave his nod to multiple labour law amendments which were earlier passed by the Rajasthan assembly. I’m enlisting the two main ones here:
– No govt nod required for companies employing upto 300 for laying off or shutting down units, previously the number was 100.
– 30% of total employee membership is needed to form labour union, previous number was 15%.
While the first one makes hire-and-fire easy, the second one makes formation of unions extremely difficult thus weakening labour laws greatly. Rajasthan Model was step one. Now the plan is to propagate this model to other states, starting with BJP states. However, the going hasn’t been easy. For eg, Maharashtra failed to pass the aforementioned first amendment of allowing industrial units with less than 300 staff to shut down and lay off without govt sanction. BMS, RSS’s own union, was amongst the most vociferous voices against the Fadnavis Govt. Meanwhile, Central Govt is trying to pass its own sleuth of amendments in labour law.
Besides the labour laws, the failure to pass the Land Acquisition Bill (LAB) has also been a setback of sorts. After all, these companies also need vast swathes of land. And unless you can pass a law as undemocratic as the LAB, how do you displace farmers from their fertile lands to build these manufacturing units? They couldn’t pull it off at the Union Govt level. Well, Gujarat Government stepped right in and passed all the provisions equivalent to LAB in the last assembly session. Other state assemblies are again expected to follow suit.
So, will ‘Make In India’ be successful? It could very well be if the central and state machineries combine to pass laws which takes away farmers’ land, leaving them landless and thus forcing them to become labourers; it could be successful if they weaken labour laws to the point that the Indian labour becomes sitting ducks for any company aided by FDI to walk in and exploit them to the hilt. Yes, it could be ‘successful’. But is that a win for us?