Behind the iPhone: Undercover at Foxconn

by Matt Klassen on September 13, 2012

On the eve of the release of the iPhone 5, the one that now fills many of our dreams, the Shanghai Evening News published an insider’s look at the conditions along Apple’s supply line, and while it’s certainly not as bad as some of the reports we’ve heard in recent years, it’s still not pretty.

The story is told from the perspective of a Chinese undercover journalist who got a job at the Tai Yuan Foxconn iPhone production plant, who then kept a journal if his experiences for the 10 days he managed to work there. The article was then translated and summarized in English by MIC Gadget.

Again, while the reporter didn’t witness any beleaguered workers choosing to end their lives or any explosions due to employer carelessness, the core issues of working standards and respect for the employee clearly remain. So after the reporters seven day orientation, where he was shown his dilapidated dorm room and crowded cafeteria where he would eat, he began work on assembling your iPhone.

 While mind-numbingly boring work is certainly not a contravention of ethical working standards, as I’ve covered this ongoing Foxconn story for the last several years it truly seems that this particularly point, however, is taken to the extreme. As the reporter discovered, employees are expected to work long hours doing one particular menial task, in this case his role was to mark “the smartphone’s backplate in four points using an oil-based paint pen,” and was but one of several employees charged with this task.

Here’s his record of some of his experiences:

By my own calculations, I have to mark five iPhone plates every minute, at least. For every 10 hours, I have to accomplish 3,000 iPhone 5 back plates. There are total 4 production lines in charge of this process, 12 workers in every line. Each line can produce 36,000 iPhone 5 back plates in half a day, this is scary … I finally stopped working at 7 a.m. We were asked to gather again after work. The supervisor shout out loud in front of us: “Who wants to rest early at 5 a.m.!? We are all here to earn money! Let’s work harder!” I was thinking who on earth wants to work two extra hours overtime for only mere 27 Yuan (USD$4)!?

Now granted the long shifts of menial labour without breaks are disconcerting, as is the incredibly low pay (given what the subsidies or the non-contract price of an iPhone are), but I have to be honest and say that there’s nothing here that really coincides with the damning reports that have come out of those factories in recent years, at least not on the surface.

For anyone who’s ever worked in the North American reforestation industry, long hours of mind-numbing menial labour is par for the course, as is a little supervisor motivation here and there…the only difference here being that a motivated tree-planter can makes tens of thousands of dollars in the relatively short planting season, while a motivated iPhone labourer only makes a few extra farthings.

That said, given the findings of the suspect FLA audit Apple initiated several months ago, it still does seem that Foxconn has not listened, as the necessity of breaks, the inclusion of acceptably clean working and living conditions, and increased pay were all part of the final recommendations, meaning that while this particular reporter only saw a small slice of Foxconn life, it’s a good bet that nothing has really changed.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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Demand for iPhone 5 Exceeds Supply —
September 18, 2012 at 7:13 am

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