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Entries tagged with “Gastarbeiter”.


How Giant bikes are produced in Taiwan

Giant has become one of Taiwan’s most recognized brands. Like Asus or Acer in the IT industry, the bicycle producer started out as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for Western companies. Beginning in the 1980s, Giant (Chinese: 捷安特 or 巨大) established its own brand.

Many customers in Europe or the U.S. are probably still not aware that it’s a Taiwanese company, and that their Giant bikes may have been produced in Taichung.

Who is the biggest of them all?

With a sales revenue of US$1.56 billion in 2011, Giant defines itself as currently being the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer. The company has 10,000 employees globally. About 2,500 of them work in Taiwan, where Giant was founded 40 years ago.

In 1972, its first year, the company produced less than 4,000 bikes. Giant puts the number at 5.7 million for 2012.

Giant bikes: Made in Taiwan. At least some of them.

When visiting the company headquarters in Taichung with a group of foreign journalists, we had a chance to look inside the manufacturing plant next door. My video gives you an impression of how Giant produces bikes there.

Like so many Taiwanese companies, Giant is taking advantage of low labor costs in China. In 1992, its first factory opened in Kunshan. Today, Giant is operating five plants in China. But unlike other companies, it has not given up on Taiwan as a place for manufacturing.

Giant Bicycles CEO Antony Lo

„Taichung is our head factory,“ Giant Global Group CEO Antony Lo (羅祥安) told us during our visit. „Here, we are making high-end products: carbon fibre and light-weight aluminum.“ In the plant right next to Lo’s office, 2,000 workers are producing parts as well as assembling about 1 million bikes per year.

Giant: not trying to produce as cheap as possible

„We don’t provide anything cheap,“ Lo said. „People are looking for good quality; they are not looking for cheap products.“ His company has positioned itself as a leading provider for rather high-priced sport, fitness and lifestyle bikes. In Germany, for example, typical Giant bikes range from EUR300 to EUR1,000, with the high-end price range between EUR1,500 and EUR3,000. This also includes e-bikes that have recently been gaining popularity. „We like to provide premium quality products at a popular price,“ said Lo.

Giant electric bikes ebikes

The global trend is Giant’s friend: „In the past, most people used their bikes for mobility, transportation, or lifestyle. But now the global trend is that more and more people start cycling for fitness and health reasons.“

That’s why, according to Lo, Giant is seeing strong growth in European markets like Germany and the Netherlands, and in Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan, where the number of cyclists has increased in recent years.

Giant bikes production Taiwan

Migrant workers making Giant bikes in Taiwan

Because I am very interested in the situation of migrant workers in Taiwan, and had read that Giant Taiwan employs many South-East Asians, I asked Lo how his company is dealing with this situation.

According to him, about 20% of the workers in the Taichung plant are migrant workers — about 350 to 400 people. „We choose them very carefully,“ Lo said. „We have people in Thailand and Indonesia to interview applicants over there. In Taiwan, we have dormitories and people who can speak their language to take care of them.“

Asked if his company pays all migrant workers Taiwan’s minumum wage (currently NT$18,780 / US$645 per month), or if they earn more, Lo said: „We pay according to the skill level. Some of them, we will give more than the minimum wage.“

Giant bikes factory Taiwan

Lo said that Giant has long-term relationships with many migrant workes. Usually, they can work in Taiwan for three years before they have to return to their home countries. „Most of them go home for one month and then come back to us. Many of them have been working with us for more than 10 years.“

Foreign labor is not just relevant in Taiwan, said Lo. For the European market, Giant is operating a manufacturing plant in the Netherlands. Many of the 400-500 workers there are Polish. „I think if you do the balance right, local workers plus guest workers, that’s a good system.“

Giant Anyroad bikes showroom

I published a report about Giant on the Deutsche Welle website. It has been translated into Chinese: 來自台灣的自行車巨頭

Cycling in Taipei

Although Giant is operating Taipei’s public Youbike system, the city is not yet really suited for bike commuting. I attached a camera to my bike and filmed this POV video to give you an impression of what cycling in Taipei feels like:

What is your opinion about Giant bikes? Have you noticed them becoming more popular in your country?

I am a German reporter living and working in Taiwan. Read more English posts on this mostly German blog. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, or Google Plus.

English posts you might want to have a look at:


Senioren in Taiwan

Weniger Kinder, mehr Alte – nicht nur in Deutschland zerbrechen die Regierenden sich den Kopf darüber, wie das Zusammenleben in Zukunft funktionieren soll.

Taiwans Herausforderungen klingen verblüffend bekannt: Die Geburtenrate in Taiwan ist eine der niedrigsten der Welt. Dazu eine steigende Lebenserwartung (etwa 80 Jahre), das ergibt eine rapide alternde Gesellschaft. Mehr als zehn Prozent der Taiwaner haben den 65. Geburtstag schon hinter sich.

Taiwan elderly women in park

Aktiv im Alter

Um mir ein eigenes Bild zu machen, muss ich nur die Straße vor meiner Haustür überqueren. Der kleine Park hinter der Polizeiwache ist ein beliebter Treffpunkt für Senioren, die keine Lust haben, den Tag in einer engen, neonbeleuchteten Wohnung zu verbringen. Auf dem Sockel der Chiang Kai-Shek-Statue sitzen sieben oder acht Frauen, tauschen Neuigkeiten aus und haben alles im Blick – auch die Männer mit den Gehstöcken, die an einem Holztisch unter den Bäumen gegenüber stundenlang ins Brettspiel vertieft sind.

Taiwan elderly, senior citizens

Stehe ich besonders früh auf, sehe ich Seniorengruppen bei der Frühgymnastik oder einzelne hochkonzentriert beim Schattenboxen. In vielen Parks stehen spezielle Fitnessgeräte für Ältere, damit die Gelenke nicht einrosten. Viele Taiwaner sind im Rentenalter (das hier meist um die 60 beginnt) erstaunlich fit und überholen mich mühelos auf den steilen Bergwanderwegen.

Taiwan elderly person, wheelchair, caretaker

Nichts geht ohne Pflegekräfte

Genauso oft sehe ich aber pflegebedürftige Greise im Rollstuhl. Der wird normalerweise von einer jungen Frau mit südostasiatischen Gesichtszügen geschoben. Altenpflegerinnen kommen hier nicht aus Polen, sondern von den Philippinen, aus Vietnam oder Indonesien – aus Taiwans Sicht Billiglohnländer. Etwa 200.000 junge Frauen leben in Privathaushalten und versorgen alte Menschen, deren Kinder arbeiten – meist rund um die Uhr, denn Mindestlohn und Urlaubsregelungen gelten für sie nicht. Es sind harte Bedingungen, und leider hört man immer wieder von Pflegerinnen, die in den Familien wie Arbeitssklaven ausgebeutet werden.

Lesen Sie meinen englischen Beitrag über Gastarbeiter in Taiwan und ihre schwierige Situation.

Häusliche Pflege ist der Normalfall. Nur etwa zwei Prozent der Senioren in Taiwan leben in Heimen. (Interessante Infos: Experts call for better scheme for senior citizens’ care) Seine Eltern ein Leben lang zu ehren, ist eine eherne Grundregel in chinesisch geprägten Gesellschaften. Die Pflicht zum Gehorsam endet für Kinder nicht, wenn sie erwachsen werden.

Viele Paare leben ganz selbstverständlich mit den Eltern des Mannes in einer Wohnung (verheiratete Frauen zählen traditionell zur Familie des Ehemanns). Noch viel stärker als in Deutschland gilt die Vermutung: Wer seine Eltern im Alter nicht daheim versorgt, ist undankbar und egoistisch.

Taiwan senior citizens, couple

Ob das System noch lange funktioniert? Vor einigen Jahren erst hat Taiwan eine allgemeine Rentenversicherung eingeführt. Sechs Prozent vom Lohn zahlen Arbeitgeber nun aufs persönliche Alterskonto. Über eine Pflegeversicherung wird genauso diskutiert wie über flächendeckende Tagesbetreuung. Nur Altenheimbetreiber, die mit Senioren viel Geld verdienen, gibt es wohl noch nicht.

Eine Folge aus meiner Taiwan-Kolumne im heimatlichen Anzeigenblatt.


South-East Asian migrant workers in Taiwan

Where might she be from?

Every „Westerner“ in Taiwan probably knows what it means to be treated as a first-class foreigner. So we (I am writing this from my personal POV) behave clumsy most of the time, do not have 5000 years of culture and our languages are not as sophisticated as Chinese, but hey – white skin means we all speak English perfectly, make tons of money and look like Hollywood stars, doesn’t it? So despite widespread latent scepticism towards foreigners, we get by quite well.

But there is another group of foreigners in Taiwan that far outnumbers us. Only we tend not to notice them so much. Those are the foreign workers from Taiwan’s poor neighbouring countries, brought in to work in factories, construction, as maids and caregivers. Basically, they are here to do the jobs the Taiwanese are not willing to do themselves, at least not for the wages being paid.

Statistics on foreign labor in Taiwan

According to the Taiwan’s official government statistics (Update: numbers for 2014), there are currently more than 550,000 foreign workers in Taiwan. About half of them work in manufacturing and construction, the other half does social work, so the gender ratio is about balanced. Most are Indonesians, Vietnamese, Filipinos or Thai. This number does not include the „foreign wives“, so the actual number of foreigners from poorer countries looking for a brighter future in Taiwan is even greater.

„Every single sheltered migrant worker bears an undesired labor conflict, which reflects the injustice of the system.“ (c) TIWA

Discrimination and racism not unheard of

Now it would be nice if Taiwan’s society, known for its overall kindness, would extend their hospitality to each and every one who choses to come here to make a living, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Instead, many foreign workers in Taiwan apparently encounter exploitation, prejudices and sometimes open racism on a daily basis. A Catholic priest and professor puts it like this:

Even students who appear to be open-minded on such controversial issues as abolition of the death penalty or gender equality tend to react angrily when I suggest that too many Taiwanese employers routinely look down upon or flagrantly mistreat workers from Asian countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Issues that touch on the treatment of laborers belong in an ethics course as examples (often glaringly obvious) of behavior that offends principles like the dignity of the human person, fairness, and respect.

(…) at least some employers intimidate and control foreign workers by seizing control of their passports and, sometimes, their cell phones. (…) I know of a couple who once hired a worker for care-giving, but insisted she could not leave their home alone. The bosses told me they feared their worker would meet other workers and compare her situation with theirs, and return to them “unhappy.”

Just recently, the news that many employers force Indonesian Muslim employees to eat pork made headlines. Then there are the government’s plans to scrap the minimum wage requirements for foreign workers. One Western foreigner nailed it in this letter to the Taipei Times:

If, as I once read, we are to judge a society’s level of civilization by how it treats its most vulnerable members, then Taiwan is failing spectacularly. Taiwan’s migrant workers should be given medals and awards for what they have contributed to society here, not further reductions in barely subsistence-level wages — but then such actions show us just how far the present government is prepared to stoop to pay back its corporate masters.

„I want my day off.“ (c) TIWA

Supporting migrant workers in Taiwan

There are actually organizations in Taiwan trying to make a difference, first and foremost the Taiwan International Workers‘ Association (TIWA) that is organizing demonstrations and press conferences and advocating foreign workers‘ rights.

TIWA chairperson Ku Yu-ling (顧玉玲) said the root of the problem lay in the government repeatedly delaying including migrant caregivers under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) to protect their basic working rights.

As a result, caregivers are often forced to put up with poor working conditions, such as doing things that are against their religious beliefs or working for long periods of time with no days off or adequate time to rest.

Going public: Foreign workers face the press. (c) TIWA

Photo exhibition in Taipei

There are two reasons I am writing on this subject now. First, I just returned from a photo exhibition TIWA put up that depicts scenes from foreign workers‘ life in Taiwan. I had lots of time to take a good look at the photos – I was the only one there. Little wonder, since the exhibition is tucked away in a basement corner of an expensive shopping mall near Taipei 101.

So I want to encourage everyone to go and see this exhibition. It’s only on display until May 31, and you find it on the B2 floor of the Shinkong Mitsukoshi in Xinyi, in the A9-building. There also seem to be photos on display in Ximen’s Cinema Park (which is currently being revitalized as a public art space), but I have not been there yet. More information on the exhibitions (in Chinese) on the TIWA website.

„Pinoy Sunday“

The other reason is that there is a fine movie playing right now called „Pinoy Sunday“ that I cannot recommend highly enough. It focusses on two Philippino workers in Taipei on their day off. While the story superficially is about their attempts to bring a red sofa, discarded by a rich Taiwanese couple, back to their factory dorm, there are lots more layers to it. You get to se the microcosm of „Little Manila“ on Zhongshan North Rd., where the workers spend their free Sundays. And while racism or discrimination is not at the story’s center, there are enough awkward situations and remarks to make you understand that being a foreign worker in Taiwan is probably not an altogether pleasant experience.

There is a fine review of „Pinoy Sunday“ in the Taipei Times, and a letter by Dan Bloom who argues it deserves an Oscar nomination. Most important, there is the official website that tells you where and when you can see it. And you really should hurry, because it’s no blockbuster, and right now there are only three cinemas left screening it (two in Taipei, one in Tainan).

„Pictures, representing us as exhilarated tourists…“

Go see the exhibition, watch the movie, and keep in mind: Most foreigners in Taiwan are too busy working in factories, building apartment houses or MRT lines or caring for old people to idle away their time writing or reading blogs like this. They really deserve our sympathy, solidarity and, where possible, support.

How can we do this? Suggestions are welcome.

„…are gifts sent back home to reassure our familiy.“ (c) TIWA

I am a German reporter living and working in Taiwan. Read more English posts on this otherwise mostly German blog. You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, and Google Plus.

English posts you might want to have a look at:


In ein paar Stunden gehe ich vor die Tür, um mir das 2010-Feuerwerk am Taipei 101 anzusehen – allerdings aus sicherer Entfernung, denn rund um das Gebäude werden Menschenmassen erwartet, gegen die der Shilin-Nachtmarkt am Wochenende wie das Vereinsfest der freiwilligen Feuerwehr Neubiberg wirkt. (Grüße an Julian!)

Nachtrag: Das Video vom Feuerwerk am Taipei 101 zu Silvester 2010/2011.

Anlässlich des neuen Jahrzehnts gehe ich mit der Zeit und bin nun auch auf Twitter aktiv. Und voraussichtlich demnächst auch auf Facebook. Beides eher beruflich orientiert und auf englisch, zwecks Verbreiterung der Kontaktbasis vor Ort.

Follow taiwanreporter on Twitter

Im neuen Jahr können wir uns ja einen Spaß daraus machen, Strichlisten zu führen: Wie viele Karten, Globen, Grafiken etc. stellen Taiwan als eigenständiges Land dar?

Im Souvenir-Shop des Taipei 101 werden jedenfalls Globen verkauft, die genau das nicht tun. Darüber regt nicht nur J. Michael Cole sich auf.

Zur Nachhilfe empfehle ich folgendes Video, mit besonderer Aufmerksamkeit bei 1:08.

Noch ein paar Links, bevor die Zeit abläuft: Miese Arbeitsbedingungen für Gastarbeiter in Taiwans Fabriken (dazu auch etwas auf deutsch).

Lesetipp: Mein englischer Text über Taiwans Gastarbeiter, die Ausländer zweiter Klasse

Eine Luxusyacht reist von der Werft in Taiwan zu einer Ausstellung in Deutschland, Taiwans Werften gehören „zu den besten der Welt“. Faszinierende Zeitreise: Chiang Kai-shek war zwischen 1927 und 1955 zehnmal auf dem Cover des Time Magazine. Man kann auch die dazu gehörigen Artikel aufrufen. Ein schön ausführlicher Spiegel-Artikel aus dem Jahr 1999, als Präsident Lee Teng-hui es wagte, für Taiwans Beziehungen zu China das deutsch-deutsche Verhältnis zum Vergleich heranzuziehen.

Ganz aktuell, umfassend und als sachliche Einführung zu Taiwans Geschichte und Situation unbedingt empfehlenswert: Jens Damm, der in Taiwan lebt, über „Taiwan auf dem Weg zur pluralistischen und multikulturellen Demokratie“.

Und zum Abschluss ein Hinweis der Taiwan-Vertretung in Deutschland:

Gerne möchten wir Sie auf einen Taiwan-Themenabend hinweisen der am Samstag, den 9. Januar 2010 im digitalen ARD-Sender EinsExtra ausgestrahlt wird:

20:15 Taiwan – Schatzinsel im Chinesischen Meer (wird um 23:20 Uhr wiederholt)
21:02 „EinsExtra im Gespräch“ – Moderator Ulrich Timm, der vom 15.-22.11.2009 in Taiwan weilte, und Dr. Hermann Halbeisen von der Universität Köln sprechen über die politische und wirtschaftliche Entwicklung zu beiden Seiten der Taiwanstraße
21:30 „Heilen mit Kräutern und Nadeln“ – Traditionelle chinesische Medizin auf Taiwan

Falls Sie EinsExtra digital nicht empfangen können, können Sie die Sendungen auch im Internet sehen unter http://eins-extra.de/ Sendungen von A-Z.