Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hyundai and Foxconn buses. Near Chennai, not in China

"I will be back in a minute, sir" the autorickshaw driver, "L," said as he stopped the vehicle in the shade. 

Right from the first minute of the drive, I engaged him in conversations--in Tamil, of course--about Kanchipuram and other topics.

The first question I had for him was whether the name on the vehicle, "S," was his.  "No, sir, it is my son's."  Which is also when he told me his name was "L."

I would never have guessed that he was a father of a kid; he seemed way too young for fatherhood.  I suppose this is better than the Tony Randall route to becoming a father at an age when quite a few would have become great-grandfathers!

"L" drove me from one old temple to another.  As we were driving, I spotted two large white buses with "Hyundai" written on them.  A number of companies--multinationals and Indian alike--run their own buses to transport employees.  Thus, it was not the bus itself that caught my attention, but the fact that these two buses were in Kanchipuram.  Perhaps a few employees were on a tour?  Or, perhaps visiting Hyundai managers were on a sightseeing trip?

"What is the Hyundai bus doing here?" I asked "L."

When he didn't reply, I thought he probably didn't hear me.  I asked him again.

"I don't know what is written on the bus, sir.  I don't know to read much."

"Oh ... how many years did you go to school?"

He answered with three fingers for three years.  The manner in which he responded makes me wonder whether that was an exaggeration--perhaps he is barely literate and that is it?

Later, on my bus ride back to Chennai, I spotted two white buses with the words Foxconn.  While I am all too familiar with Hyundai, Ford and the automobile industry in Chennai (hmmm ... my sabbatical work!) I had no idea that Foxconn has operations in India, and that too in Chennai.

Back in Oregon, I routinely require students to read this essay about Foxconn.  It always shocks most of them.  It troubles them that a workplace has nets around the buildings in order to minimize employee suicides.  I am hoping that Foxconn employees in India get a better deal--after all, at least on the books there are labor laws that Foxconn has to follow, which is a step above China's situation.

Most read this past month