Chinese workers at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen (Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
In a noteworthy deviation from the outsourcing trend that has defined the manufacturing sector for years, Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant which produces Apple's iPhones and iPads, is considering diversifying its facilities away from Asia to the United States.
The company's chairman Terry Gou called the U.S. a "must-go market" yesterday at an annual party marking the end of the Chinese year, Reuters reports. According to analysts, part of the reason behind the move is a desire to set up shop near the company's large U.S. clients.
"Obama is also really pushing to return manufacturing to America and boost employment opportunities," Kuo Ming-Chi, an analyst at Taipei-based KGI Securities, told Reuters. Apple, meanwhile, is building a new manufacturing facility of its own in Mesa, Arizona, which it says will create 2,000 new jobs.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Foxconn is looking to build large computer displays at a potential U.S. plant, since those are more difficult to ship overseas from Asia than smaller gadgets like iPhones and Playstations. And Bloomberg reports that at least six states are vying to attract the company, which will also invest $10 million in a robotics research venture with Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University.
Foxconn came to broad public attention as a result of "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," a staged monologue by author and playwright Mike Daisey in which he tells the story of a trip he took to China to see for himself how iPads were made. After that show was adapted for the radio on This American Life, it emerged that many of Daisey's claims of worker exploitation were exaggerated or unsubstantiated (the radio program produced a full-episode retraction of the piece).
Working conditions at Foxconn and other manufacturers in China have also been flagged by journalists and labour organizations. Eighteen attempted suicides at the company's plants in 2010 attracted widespread media attention, leading the company to install nets on the buildings at its Shenzhen campus (many observers have pointed out that suicide rates at the plants are below national averages for China). There have also been allegations of long working hours and poor safety regulations. In December, the Fair Labor Association, a partnership between companies, labour organizations and universities, issued a report on Foxconn, finding that the company had been making steady progress on working conditions.
Foxconn has also been in the news in Canada due to a new partnership with BlackBerry, which will see the Taiwan-based company take the lead on a line of phones that will be sold in Indonesia, where BlackBerries are still popular.