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Foxconn's forced labour tactics pay fat dividends

All those poor folk beavering away in Foxconn's labour camps to make us all the phones we can throw an app at are doing a fine job as far as the outfit's shareholders are concerned.

The firm said it expects to see a "dramatic improvement" in its 2011 financial performance, sending its share price rocketing.

Foxonn's shares have lost close to 20 per cent of their notional value this year after publicity surrounding the high number of worker suicides at its factories led to promises of better pay and conditions for survivors, a move which miffed investors no end.

The outfit's latest bullish prognostications led to a 13 per cent hike in its share price yesterday.

Chairman Samuel Chin emerged from a shareholder meeting to tell hacks that all was back on track, as the smartphone market is booming. "Smartphones previously were a niche market. They have very much become mainstream products," he said. "Our R&D expenses have continued to increase and I can assure you that a tremendously high amount of that expense is focused primarily on smartphones and tablets," he added.

Foxconn International, a subsidiary of Taiwanese manufacturing giant Hon Hai Precision Industry makes gadgets for the likes of Apple, Nokia, and Motorola. It also makes notebook PCs for the likes of Dell and HP.

But while the outfit churns out electronic gizmos for western consumers, its workers can barely afford to buy the gadgets they make. Conditions at Foxconn factories are such that workers had taken to jumping from its roofs to secure posthumous payments for their struggling families rather than go back to the production line. The situation got so bad that Foxconn owner and Taiwan's richest man Terry Gou came up with the bright idea of installing nets around the most popular suicide spots in order to catch the flying bodies.

Apple chief Steve Jobs waded in to the debate over worker conditions at Foxconn, stating the factories were not sweatshops without ever having set foot in one himself.

After Gou pledged to pay his workers a living wage, costs at Foxconn increased which hit its bottom line.

"The financial results clearly were a disappointment to the management team," said Chin yesterday. "We have taken steps to rectify the situation," he said, while remaining shy of specifics.

One cunning ruse the company has come up with is to get workers to sign a pledge not to kill themselves at work as the publicity was bad for business.