Conditions at Indian SEZs should be seen in some perspective

We often hear, how poor conditions—regarding work safety, compensation, salary, working hours prevail at Indian SEZs. But the remarks are often standalone. Means, critics don’t take into account the conditions that prevail at countries, either at the same stage of economy or in way of transitioning their economies towards the same levels. In simple words, while talking about India, one should try to see things in perspective to conditions in China or Brazil.

This helps, as a nation is not wrong all the time. So some perspective, gives citizens an opportunity to be considerate towards their nation, at things it has done well.

Many Indians are aware of the thrust China gave to Exports at the beginning of 1980s. At that time, China made big SEZs and developed extensive connectivity. The idea was to increase the GDP, by means of high increase in manufacturing, productivity; and ultimately exports.

In the last 30 years, although China achieved much more than the world and it has aimed at; it erred on one area: People or more specifically, the people who worked in these SEZs.

China gave ultimate encouragement to companies in these SEZs. These companies brought truck loads of people from villages all over China. These low skilled people were made to work at hectic pace; giving least care to their Human rights (working for extended hours, kept in factory premises, giving least holidays etc).

The result, in June 2010, 11 workers or employees of Electronics maker Foxconn Technologies, committed suicide inside its one of the Factories’ premises. The world media questioned poor working practices at its Shenzhen factory.

Foxconn kept calling the claims baseless, even calling them arising out of inadequate information (you are free to call my perspective that too); but the Friday salary hike announcement of Foxconn by two-thirds at its Shenzhen factory, has proved the world and I somewhat right.

According to, State News agency Xinhua quoting company – Foxconn has raised the salaries of assembly line workers by roughly 66 percent starting this month. The new salaries would bring salaries to 2,000 yuan ($298.9) per month. Earlier they were $180. The increase will benefit about 85 percent of workers at the Shenzhen factory, the report added. Foxconn increased salaries by 30 percent in June, after the said suicides, from 900 yuan to 1,200 yuan per month, for its Shenzhen employees.

In Indian rupees the new and old and the oldest salaries (before June Hike) will be around Rs 13749, Rs 8280 and Rs 6370 respectively.

Now I’m not saying that Indian companies are paying well to assembly workers; but still 1) the recent suicides at Foxconn 2) Foxconn’s Friday salary hike 3) June pay hike 4) the big number of workers that are getting pay hike 5) and last but most important, Foxconn’s status in the world, collectively point to a very compelling argument.

Foxconn is not a small company, especially going by its status in the world. It’s a well known company-- Foxconn, makes the iPhone and other products for Apple and also counts Dell and Hewlett-Packard among its clients. Its founder Terry Gou started his business in 1974 making television parts with an investment of 100 000 Taiwan dollars (about R21 000), and later began producing computer parts. Now employing 900 000 staff worldwide, he is listed as Taiwan's richest man by Forbes magazine with a net worth of $5.9-billion.

Now compare the salaries of workers before June this year. Plus 85 percent of workers were working at those salaries. Add to this the fact that if Foxconn can increase salary by more than double, in last three months; why was it giving less prior to June.

And if this is the state of affairs at Foxconn, quite well known to the western countries; what will be the conditions at other factories in China?

Note that no one attempts suicide just for salary; issues need to be intolerable and grievances not heard.

To conclude, India as a state comes short of our expectations on many counts;China though failed here, has many pluses to its credit too; but there are things India does well too; it never tries to neglect workers or curb voice. The state is always ready to hear people grievances and demands. Pressures exist everywhere but even a state given right of being heard makes a big difference.

So next time, before discussing India, try to add some perspective. --------

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