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Foxconn builds products for many vendors, but its mud sticks to Apple

Michael Kan | Oct. 25, 2012
The name Foxconn has become shorthand for the human costs of building the iPhone in China, linking Apple to bad publicity about worker suicides, deaths from a plant explosion and rioting factory workers.

The name Foxconn has become shorthand for the human costs of building the iPhone in China, linking Apple to bad publicity about worker suicides, deaths from a plant explosion and rioting factory workers.

But many other companies besides Apple contract with the Taiwan-based firm to build their products. Even if you don't have an iPhone, there's a good chance that something you own or use each day was built by Foxconn Technology Group, a company analysts say is the largest electronics manufacturer in the world.

Foxconn, which employs some 1.2 million workers in China, is secretive about who it does business with, and the company declined to name its customers for this article. But analysts who follow the company offered examples of the products assembled, and the list is long.

Sony's PlayStation 3, the Nintendo Wii and Amazon's Kindle Fire are just a few of the products Foxconn makes. It also produces TVs for Sony, Sharp, and Toshiba; handsets for Nokia, Motorola and Huawei, and networking equipment for Cisco, according to Arthur Liao, an analyst with Fubon Securities Investment Services Co.

Foxconn is also a major assembler of PCs for Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Acer, and manufactures all three of the big game consoles, from Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, other analysts said.

Cisco, Huawei, Nintendo, Sony and Nokia all confirmed they use Foxconn as a manufacturer, though Nokia said the "clear majority" of its phones are made in-house. Other firms including Acer, Microsoft, Motorola, Sharp and Toshiba declined to comment about where their products are made.

Still, as allegations of abusive labor practices continue to be levelled at Foxconn, Apple has been the main target of complaints about the manufacturer's working conditions.

The strong association may not be unjustified. Among Foxconn's clients, Apple is the largest and contributes about 40 percent of the company's revenue, according to Liao. Another analyst put the figure higher, at more than 50 percent.

Apple's relationship with Foxconn is so extensive that the Taiwanese firm has been building factories exclusively to assemble Apple products, according to Helen Chiang, an analyst with research firm IDC. This is done to meet Apple's demand for secrecy regarding its products. In contrast, a manufacturer such as Quanta Computer, also based in Taiwan, will use one floor of a manufacturing plant for a vendor such as HP, and another floor for Dell, she said.

In the eyes of labor protection groups, Apple deserves to be singled out for criticism because of its powerful position in the market.

"Foxconn is the largest manufacturer and Apple is the largest electronics company, so they have an even greater responsibility than other companies," said Li Qiang, founder of New York-based China Labor Watch. Most recently, the group blamed Apple's iPhone 5 requirements for tension and violence at a factory in Zhengzhou.

 

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