June 13, 2018
Amazon’s Kindle is being built in China by the same company that worked its employees to death making iPhones
by Simon Reichley
A dismal but unsurprising report compiled by China Labor Watch (CLW), and reported on by Gethin Chamberlain at the Guardian, reveals what any casual student of Marx could have easily guessed: that Jeff Bezos’s massive personal wealth, and the obscene profits his pet octopus Amazon has recently begun yielding, grow not out of any great genius, but out of a rich compost of human suffering and exploited labor.
Stories of Amazon’s labor malpractice have been all too common in the last few years, focusing mainly on their mistreatment of warehouse workers and their physically and spiritually exhausting corporate culture. But in the last decade or so the company has expanded their production of various gadgets and gizmos, becoming more and more a hardware brand. This transition has put Amazon in the business of not only selling and shipping stuff, but making stuff, too.
And so the question becomes: who’s actually, physically making all those talking plastic boxes?
The answer, of course, is Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer famous mostly for nightmarish working conditions and suicide netting. Their Hengyang factory complex, located in China’s Hunan Province, is the source for Amazon’s Echo, Echo Dot (the company’s line of in-home AI speakers), and (take note, e-reader-readers) the Kindle. As you might well imagine, it really sucks to work there.
As Chamberlain relates, employees at Hengyeng work ten hour days, six days a week, accumulating far more overtime than is technically permitted by Chinese law. During their six days at the complex, they live in squalid corporate dorms, need supervisors’ permission to use the bathroom, and are given daunting production quotas each week. Many are “agency workers” who can be fired at any time for any reason, do not receive benefits or overtime pay, and take home significantly lower wages than those promised by Foxconn at the outset.
Foxconn has promised to improve pay and working conditions before, most notably in 2012, when another labor watchdog, the Fair Labor Group, exposed a long list of illegal labor practices at a number of factories throughout China. But that obviously didn’t stick.
Kara Hartnett Hurst, an executive of global sustainability at Amazon, told CLW that “Amazon takes reported violations of our supplier code of conduct extremely seriously. Amazon recognises our responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of factory workers manufacturing products for Amazon.” Which is obviously not true.
Foxconn has a well-documented track record as a repeat violator of both basic decency and Chinese labor law. They’ve repeatedly failed to make good on promises to improve worker conditions; any company with even a smidgen of interest in “the wellbeing of factory workers” would take their business elsewhere.
So why didn’t Amazon? Because Foxconn can make the most units for the lowest cost, and Jeff Bezos cares about only two things: his profit margin, and beating Elon Musk to Mars.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.