China Labor Watch Urges Amazon to Address Whistleblower’s Demands 中国劳工观察呼吁亚马逊正视吹哨人的诉求

Tang Mingfang in the Foxconn factory in Hengyang

The Guardian reported Foxconn whistleblower Tang Mingfang’s experiences. Tang Mingfang exposed Hengyang Foxconn factory’s illegal use of student workers on Amazon product assembly lines to China Labor Watch in 2019, he had exposed how the student workers were coerced to perform over-time shifts under verbal threats. Hengyang Foxconn’s production activities had violated Article 32 of the Labor Law of China. After contracting with Tang Mingfang, China Labor Watch launched an on-site investigation at Hengyang Foxconn complex, and issued a report on the illegal use of labor at Amazon supplier Foxconn on August 8, 2019. Shortly after the report was published, Tang Mingfang was taken away by the local police forces for investigation. On July 1, 2020, Tang Mingfang was found guilty of infringement of commercial secrets on the grounds of the evidence provided by Foxconn, Tang was sentenced to two years in prison.

Although Amazon immediately launched an investigation on Hengyang Foxconn after China Labor Watch published the report, and demanded its suppliers to rectify their malpractices in production activities; neither Amazon or Foxconn followed article three “Grievance Mechanism and Whistleblower Protections” of the “Ethical Behaviour” section detailed in Amazon Supply Chain Standards. Foxconn’s retaliatory measures against whistleblower who exposed its illegal activities, and Amazon’s inaction on its supplier’s persecution against whistleblower, demonstrates both companies’ lack of commitment to properly rectify the exposed problems in the supply chain. 

After Tang Mingfang was released from prison, he retold us his experiences in retrospect. At the same time, he revealed his experiences to Jeff Bezos and other executives in a letter. China Labor Watch urges Amazon to acknowledge and address issues in its products’ assembly lines, and to strengthen mechanisms that protect whistleblowers who have fought for labor rights. 

Tang Mingfang's Letter to Amazon Executives

To the Executive Chairman of Amazon Jeff Bezos:

Hello,

My name is Tang Mingfang, and I am from Yongzhou City in Hunan Province, China. I
was a material control engineer at Foxconn Hengyang, where I worked on the mass production
and quality control for the Amazon Kindle and Echo Smart Speakers and Displays. Due to
Hengyang Foxconn’s cost cutting measures, its employees’ interests and rights were not
protected, and Chinese laws were violated. The factory illegally employed student workers and
dispatch workers from employment agencies, and Hengyang Foxconn refused to acknowledge
the fact that it did not protect employees’ basic wellbeing or respect their demands. After
gathering my courage, I risked my safety and reported the violations to China Labor Watch,
founded by Li Qiang, to whom I provided key evidence for the above claims, including several
photos that were not encrypted by Foxconn. I believe you have viewed these photos and you
are aware of the issues at Foxconn. The reason why I reported these abuses was to fulfill my
duty to defend social justice and out of empathy for the battered student workers; my intentions
were never to seek profit or harm the company. After the China Labor Watch report was
published in August 2019, with the help from you and Amazon, Hengyang Foxconn immediately
rectified the above-mentioned violations, and Hon Hai Group issued a public statement claiming
it had already disciplined those responsible for the malpractice. But Foxconn did not promote
legal practices in order to fundamentally solve the problem; rather Foxconn is now trying to
punish me, the “whistleblower”, to fundamentally solve their problem: me publicly exposing their
malpractice.


After China Labor Watch and The Guardian initially reported Hengyang Foxconn labor
law violations in March 2018, Amazon took actions right away, including requiring the Hengyang
plant to develop an error correction plan and routine inspections and ensuring Foxconn can
make the necessary changes. Foxconn also issued a statement that they would correct the
found violations. As an employee of Foxconn in Hengyang at that time, and a witness of this
incident, I clearly know Amazon’s strict requirements for its suppliers regarding corporate social
responsibility and commitment to employee welfare, as well as Amazon’s firm intolerance of
such illegal employment practices by Foxconn. However, the real situation I witnessed was that
although Hengyang Foxconn issued a public statement promising to improve, in actuality, they
not only did not follow Amazon’s requirements to improve, but the labor environment also
worsened in 2019 as you can see in the media investigation report in August 2019. I believe
every person with a conscience has a responsibility to stop such illegal actions. I believe it was
important to let Amazon know about this noncompliance. I just had no way to contact Amazon
directly, so I thought of looking for media outlets to expose the situation. But because of the
huge impact of Hengyang Foxconn, local media was reluctant to report it, so I had no choice but
to find the organization, Chinese Labor Watch, that had previously exposed Hengyang Foxconn
in 2018. I could only hope that Amazon would see these problems and urge Foxconn to carry
out comprehensive rectification as soon as possible in order to avoid the incident from
expanding out of control which would bring more trouble to Amazon. After the issue came to
light, I was happy to see that Amazon immediately instructed the audit department to investigate
and urge Hengyang Foxconn to rectify the problem. I just never thought I would be maliciously
targeted by Hengyang Foxconn and pay the price of two years in jail.


On August 16, 2019, under the directive of Foxconn Hengyang, I was interrogated at the
local police station; I was arrested on September 11, I was forced to make false confessions
under extreme duress from the interrogators. I was detained and in custody until July 2020,
when I was convicted by the local court. While I was detained in the police station for
questioning, I endured tremendous physical and mental stress. The officers at the police station
used corporal punishments and violence during the interrogation to force me to change my
statement and say that I did commit the so-called criminal activities. The police officer battered
me multiple times during the interrogation, he repeatedly slapped and hit me in my face and in
the back of my head. I was also tortured during the interrogation process when I refused to
collaborate and admit to their baseless accusations. I could not stand up because my hands
were chained onto the little desk that connected the two armrests, I could not do anything but
suffer through such grave pain. During the first few days of the interrogation, the officers
purposefully turned the air conditioner to the maximum level in the interrogation room, and I felt
extremely cold. Eventually, they got angry and handcuffed both hands to the bottom of the iron
frame. I was unable to stand or sit down, and I spent the entire night in a semi-crouching
position. By the next morning, I could no longer not endure it. My entire body shivered and
shook when I reluctantly signed the documents provided by the police, next to an officer whom I
feared would beat me again if I did not cooperate.


During this period, the local prosecutor’s office returned the case to the Public Security
Bureau for supplementary investigations twice, on January 3 and again on March 3, 2020, on
the grounds that “some key facts were unclear and evidence was insufficient”. However, under
pressure from your supplier Hengyang Foxconn, the Public Security Bureau reopened their
investigation on me and reissued their original reports on February 3 and April 3, 2020
respectively. And so, their original goal of putting me in jail was finally achieved. The photos you
have seen, which are obvious proof of illegal employment, were appraised at my own expense
by two Judicial Expertise Centers in Hunan and Beijing, and they classified all of my photos as
trade secrets (the lawyer I hired confirmed that the appraisers of the two reports did not have
the qualification of appraisers as required by Chinese law and that their reports should not be
accepted in a court of law). What is even more outrageous is that Hengyang Foxconn asked a
Hunan accounting firm to categorize the 1.4 million RMB incurred in retiring illegal workers and
re-recruiting legal employees as “losses caused by my infringement of its trade secrets” in order
to achieve its promise to you and the public that “the irregularities have been immediately
corrected”. Under the strong pressure from Hengyang Foxconn, the local court was forced to
ignore my lawyer’s plea of not guilty and instead handed me a guilty verdict, a sentence of two
years in prison, and a 10,000 RMB fine.


During my two years in prison, both my physical and mental health suffered tremendous
damage. My 80-year-old father was bedridden after he suffered a stroke, and after learning that
I was arrested in the detention center, he suddenly collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. He
was resuscitated multiple times, but sadly, he passed away on November 2, 2019. Since I could
not even go home for the funeral, everyone in my hometown found out that I was in jail. All the
rumors circulating in my hometown overwhelmed my grieving elderly mother and nearly broke
her spirit. This series of injustices also affected my dear sister and my wife. With the family
breadwinner in prison, my wife suddenly lost her only source of income. With some financial
support from relatives and friends, my wife was forced to take our son, who was still in the
second grade of elementary school at the time, and transfer him to a school hundreds of
kilometers away. After the move, our originally lively and outgoing son became silent and sullen
because of his father’s sudden disappearance from his life. Hengyang Foxconn is the source of
all of this suffering. My father always taught me that I should be a good person, and because I
followed my heart and believed that justice should be served, I reported the serious violations at
Hengyang Foxconn. Yet my imprisonment has caused such great harm to me and my family!
After I was released from prison on September 10, 2021, my wife could not understand
or accept what I had done, and to this day she has not forgiven me. My sorrow at my situation
still causes me to burst into tears, but I was moved to see the care and concern of righteous
people like Li Qiang and other friends in the community who are still willing to help me. But the
managers of Hengyang Foxconn were full of resentment towards me. On the day that I was
released from prison, I went to Hengyang Foxconn to pick up my personal belongings. I wanted
to meet with the Foxconn supervisor to understand the situation. But the supervisor refused to
see me and told his subordinates to block me from the factory’s door even though I was hungry
and penniless after being released from prison. In the end, not only did Hengyang Foxconn
management not see me, but they also called the police to remove me from Foxconn property.
They said that I apparently had voluntarily resigned from Foxconn at the end of September 2019
and that it was impossible for management to see me since I was not a current Foxconn
employee.


Thinking of what Hengyang Foxconn has done to me in the past two years, I feel angry.
But I am just a person at the bottom of society; I have no voice and no one to listen to me. After
learning that Li Qiang was willing to convey my situation to the world, I could not help writing this
letter to you because I was your loyal admirer when I was at Foxconn. I know that you resigned
from your high salary Wall Street position and resolutely drove to Seattle and founded Amazon.
I know that you started selling books online and went on to create the powerful Amazon empire.
You once said, “We have a lot of problems on the earth, and we need to solve these problems”
and “We need people who fight hard for their beliefs and try hard.” Although the distance
between me and you is farther than from space to the earth, I sought to follow in your footsteps,
but when I “showed the courage” to report the problems at Hengyang Foxconn to the media, I
was treated so unfairly. As the top executive of Hengyang Foxconn’s largest customer, how do
you feel about this?


Shakespeare once said: What’s past is prologue. I would like to believe that Hengyang
Foxconn has done better than before in terms of the labor environment, and I also hope that
Amazon and you can respect my efforts and continue to follow up with suppliers to improve
labor conditions. Although the price I had paid is too high for me, if I can get your attention and
benefit the employees of all Amazon suppliers, I think it will be worth my effort.
Finally, as your faithful admirer, as a former employee of your company’s client, as a
victim, a son, a husband, and a father, I hope you can understand and pay attention to what
happened to me. I would also like to ask you here: Can you ask Hengyang Foxconn to face up
to its own problems and to compensate and apologize to me? I was convicted and sent to jail
because Hengyang Foxconn accused me of violating Chinese law by exposing the use of
student and dispatch workers and because the actions Amazon took under its social
responsibility standards in response to my whistleblowing caused economic losses to Foxconn.
As the only customer of Foxconn in Hengyang, I hope that you will ask Foxconn in Hengyang to
communicate with the local court and assist me in my complaint about the case so that the court
can finally revoke my guilty verdict!

 

Thank you,

Tang Mingfang
01/18/2022

1 thought on “China Labor Watch Urges Amazon to Address Whistleblower’s Demands 中国劳工观察呼吁亚马逊正视吹哨人的诉求”

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