Canon ‘Locked Up’ Migrant Workers in Taiwan Amid COVID-19: Report

Electronics manufacturers in Taiwan including Canon and Foxconn supplier Innolux have been accused of “locking up” migrant workers amidst the COVID-19 outbreak taking place in the country.

The Financial Times reports that according to internal documents and staff communications that it has seen, multiple electronics manufacturers — including Canon — have responded to the outbreak by forbidding migrant workers from leaving the dormitories where they live except to go to work and banning them from speaking to one another.

Taiwan is responsible for the manufacturing of chips, servers, laptops, and other electronics for several international brands and has seen a boom in its economy over the last year as work from home orders have seen demand for such products skyrocket. In order to meet the increased demand, Taiwan has brought in a huge number of migrant workers — 713,000 as of April of 2021 — mainly from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. The Financial Times reports that this influx of workers now accounts for 8 percent of the total Taiwanese workforce and more than 60 percent of those migrants are working in factories to produce electronics components.

As part of their work agreement with migrants, employers are legally required to provide them housing accommodations and food, but reportedly mostly outsource those services to brokers and companies who try and keep costs as low as possible and will sometimes cram up to 12 people into a room together.

While the need for the migrant workers was clearly high, discrimination against them is reportedly systemic and the COVID-19 outbreak has only made that worse. In an attempt to prevent the further spread of the disease, Taiwanese health authorities have ordered companies to take certain steps, such as preventing workers from clustering together while on the job.

But the Financial Times reports that companies are going well beyond those rules and are imposing harsh restrictions on workers. Some employers — who were not specifically named by the publication — have been accused of scaring migrants with threats that if they were to die from COVID-19, their bodies would be immediately cremated, their families would not be able to see them, and the family’s finances would be immediately cut off.

Specifically, Canon is accused of telling its workers to never leave the dormitory except to go to and from work, and banned them from speaking to one another.

When reached for comment by Financial Times, Canon admitted that its rules may have been too strict.

“We cannot deny that the content and expression we used were excessive in some parts as a result of focusing too much on the safety of employees and the community,” Canon said in a statement to the publication. “In response to questions raised from within and outside the company, we have revised the content on June 18 in accordance with government advisory.”

At the time of publication, no Taiwanese government agency had spoken up against the treatment of migrant workers.

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