Research Paper: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Is a Concept

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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept and a movement that many companies worldwide are embracing that relates to positive actions that go over and above the legal and financial duties of a company. CSR pertains to the social and environmental concerns in the community in which a given company operates, and in the communities that are linked to a given company. Moreover, when a company reaches out to the community and involves its workers in the betterment of that community -- through volunteerism and other acts of generosity -- CSR becomes a winning idea for the company's stakeholders (including customers, employees, board members and shareholders). According to the European Union's definition of Corporate Social Responsibility, one of the key goals is to "…identify, prevent and mitigate possible adverse impacts which enterprises may have on society" (www.europa.eu). In this paper the main subject concerns the seriously adverse impacts relating to the Foxconn company -- which manufactures technology products for Apple in China. This paper takes the position that the terrible track record that Foxconn has shown cannot be sustained and Apple should sever its relations with Foxconn and bring its manufacturing operations back to the United States.

Foxconn, Apple, and Chinese Employees

Because the internationally accepted values of CSR have been so widely accepted and in many cases practiced, it was something of a shock when news stories began to be published that pointed out some serious, troubling problems with the Foxconn operations in China. Americans and other technology consumers around the world have been shown a positive picture of Apple products, and Apple recently was named the wealthiest technology corporation in the world, bigger than IBM and other large corporation. However, an article in the Guardian (Chamberlain, 2011) reports that a "spate of suicides" occurred in the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China. In May, 2010, seven Chinese workers (all young) -- who were building Apple iPads for consumers worldwide -- took their own lives. What was the cause of their serious emotional and psychological problems that caused them to commit suicide? And how could a technology giant like Apple allow a subcontractor to treat employees so inhumanely? If these allegations are true it is unconscionable and outrageous.

The article mentions an investigation into the cause of the suicides that was conducted by two non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and they reported that the workers at the Foxconn plant were being "exploited" and that they were living "a dismal life" (Chamberlain, p. 1). In addition, Chamberlain reports that nine Chinese sociologists have sent an "open letter to the media" that asked for an end to "regimented and restrictive work practices." According to the sociologists' letter, "fundamental human dignity" is being "sacrificed" for the building of Apple technologies (iPhones and iPads).

The workers' frustrations at Foxconn have been so serious, and the deaths of the young workers so shocking, that anti-suicide measures have been taken at the workers' dormitories in Shenzhen. Strong netting has been attached to the dormitories -- which are high-rise apartments -- to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths (Chamberlain, p. 1).

The Foxconn plants at Shenzhen and Chengdu have a total of 500,000 employees, and those workers have been instrumental in Apple earning a substantial net profit in the first quarter of 2011 -- some $6 billion. But there is a "dark side" to the making of all that money, Chamberlain continues. Interviews of Foxconn workers at the Apple sites reflect how bad the situation had become, and how far away from the concept of CSR that Foxconn had moved. "Sometimes my roommates cry when they arrive in the dormitory after a long day," a 19-year-old Foxconn female worker explained in an interview conducted with the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (Chamberlain, p. 2).

"It's difficult to adapt to this work and hard to be away from your family," she said. The Apple "code of conduct" asserts that employees in it supply chain should be treated with "respect and dignity," but the young woman (called "Li" but not her real name) claimed that she works "illegally long hours" and faces "draconian rules" and makes around $7.00 an hour (Chamberlain, p. 2). The workers at Foxconn are only able to return to their homes once a year, hence they miss their families. In the crowded dormitories where the young workers stay (most workers are between 18 to 20 years of age), up to 24 people live in a room, and the rules are "strict" (for example, no hair dryers or kettles are allowed). One young man who broke the rules was "forced to write a confession letter," saying he was wrong and will never do it again (Chamberlain, p. 2). This kind of treatment of employees is right out of the dark ages.

Indeed, the workers in many cases work more overtime than Chinese law allows; the law in China allows 36 hours of overtime, but according to the investigation workers often put in between 60 and 80 hours of overtime, Chamberlain continues. And because the iPad is an enormously popular technology product around the world, and because Apple cannot produce enough to keep up with the demand, the workers in China start work at 8:30 in the morning and they quit at 8:30 P.M. One employee said the workers go thirteen days before they get a day off.

The Foxconn company has not responded well to the suicide crisis, Chamberlain's article reports, and that is an understatement. At first the company brought in Buddhist monks "to exorcise evil spirits," but later decided to put up the nets around the tall buildings (Chamberlain, p. 3). It would seem the only evil spirits are those shown by Foxconn, not by the workers or some vague power that is unseen but powerful.

When confronted about the suicides, one Foxconn executive said that students may be killing themselves so their families can "gain large compensation payments," which was seen as cynical and unsupported by facts (Chamberlain, p. 3). In fact the workers were asked to sign a "document promising not to commit suicide" and also they were asked to sign a pledge that if they did kill themselves, their families "…would not claim more compensation than the legal limit" (Chamberlain, p. 3).

In another article on the problems at the Foxconn plants, Chamberlain reported that when a worker is not performing well, he or she is made to stand up and be "publicly humiliated in front of colleagues" (Chamberlain, 2011). The Foxconn plants project they will be able to produce perhaps 100 million iPads a year by 2012, Chamberlain continues. The journalist with the Guardian reports that Foxconn manager Louis Woo admitted that workers do work more than the legal limit of overtime, but he said "…all the extra hours are voluntary" (Chamberlain, p. 2). However, the workers interviewed said if they do not take overtime, they can only make around $200 a month for a 48-hour workweek, which is a very small amount of money.

Chamberlain quotes manager Woo saying that the suicides were not based on poor working conditions for the young people. It was a copycat type situation, he explained. "If one commits suicide, then others will follow" (Chamberlain, p. 2). In the Foxconn Web site the company claims that it places "…the high priority on Social and Environmental Responsibility" and that it focuses on "…the health and safety of communities around the world, education and employee empowerment, social harmony and equality…." (Foxconn).

The Foxconn public relations statements do not sound at all like the reports that are coming from employees and investigators in China. If what the young workers are saying is true, than Foxconn's assertions about its values and ethics should be challenged. For example, Foxconn says it takes "…pride in [its] highest ethical standards and strives for social harmony and equality to make the world a better place for all" (Foxconn). The ethical standards that have been shown thus far are not up to any standard of fairness. And for the company to claim it strives for social harmony, given the appalling conditions at the Foxconn plants is absurd.

In their section called "About Foxconn" the company says it has been guided from the start of its operations (1974) by three "visions." The first relates to manufacturing electronic produces that are "attainable" for "all mankind"; the second claims to have a model that will "revolutionize the conventional inefficient electronics outsourcing model"; and the third vision of Foxconn has to do with its ethics:

"Through the devotion to greater social harmony and higher ethical standards to achieve a win-win model for all stakeholders including shareholders, employees, community and management" (Foxconn).

What does Apple have to say about the suicides and the working conditions at the Chinese plants run by Foxconn? In a statement that was released after the suicides had become worldwide news, Apple offered this: "Apple is committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility… [and] requires suppliers to commit to our comprehensive supplier… [END OF PREVIEW]

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