Undercover reporter reveals conditions at Foxconn iPhone factory

Undercover reporter reveals conditions at Foxconn iPhone factory

Summary: A Chinese undercover reporter has documented his experiences working at Foxconn's Tai Yuan factory, presumably the production line of the 'iPhone 5'.

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TOPICS: Apple, Hardware
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The journalist, working for the Shanghai Evening Post, reportedly worked as an iPhone assembler for ten days.

A day before the rumored iPhone 5 is due to launch, the publication has released a report detailing the experience at Foxconn's Tai Yuan factory. The Post reporter secured a job at the plant, and documented his experience, which has been translated by MIC Gadget.

foxconn factory undercover reporter

Potentially reopening the controversy around Apple partner Foxconn's Chinese factories, the reporter was put through an intensive 7-day orientation, in which he was shown the living quarters, where he would eat, and how to assemble his assigned portion of the new phone model.

According to the Post, he worked a night shift, including a midnight to 6 a.m. stint with no breaks. The reporter's job was to mark four parts of the smartphone's backplate with an oil-based pen. According to the report, the aim was to get through as many components as quickly as possible, and dozens of other staff members were assigned the same role.

The dormitory where workers slept was described as "a nightmare". The dorm was allegedly a mix of garbage, sweat and foam -- and when the reporter opened his wardrobe, " lots of cockroaches crawl out from inside and the bedsheets that are being distributed to every new workers are full of dirts and ashes."

Before being allowed near the production line, the reporter's contract signing is documented below:

The contract has highly emphasized on 4 confidential areas that need to be kept strictly confidential, 1: All technical information, 2: Sales figures, 3: Human resource, 4: Production statistics. The contract didn't mention much on the overtime works. Under the section of "Possible harmful effects that may cause to worker during production", the management has asked us to tick "No" for all of them. This includes "Noise pollution" and "Toxic Pollution", I was wondering if the production floor will caused any harmful effects while working.

Unsurprisingly, security is a top concern of the plant. At the entrance of the production floor, if anyone carried a metal item through the metal detector door it was an immediately fireable offence. One worker was apparently fired for carrying a USB cable. 

Once inside, the supervisor told the reporter "Once you sit down, you only do what you are told." The reporter noted the loud sounds of machine engines and a "dense plastic smell", before being presented the back of the new iPhone and told "This is the new unleashed iPhone 5 back plate, you should be honored having the chance to produce it."

The reporter then writes:

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.

No doubt the report has been arranged to coincide with Apple's announcement, and as Chinese media outlets have exaggerated these kinds of stories before, it's worth taking with a pinch of salt. However, considering Foxconn's history with dubious working conditions, there may be a grain of truth to the reporter's experience.

Earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the Cupertino-based firm is committed to improving working conditions at Chinese partner factories.

Image credit: Liu Jiayi/ ZDNet

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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23 comments
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  • There's one sure way to improve the conditions

    Move the jobs back to America. We should be boycotting Apple until this is done. Take care of your own!
    happyharry_z
    • Apple would have their pants taxed off

      ... by OweBummer and his big government, business-loathing, "you didn't build it yourself", far left maniacs.
      LBiege
    • Don't forget to also boycott . . .

      Dell
      HP
      GM
      Caterpillar
      John Deere
      Walmart
      any company that's been taxed out of the U.S.
      and the music goes round-and-round!
      Gr8Music
      • wtf

        taxed out? They get tax breaks for moving jobs offshore.

        The only road block to bringing jobs back to the U.S...... execs would make only a billion instead of billions.
        daldama
    • Say hello to your new computer overlords

      Look at the article. This job consisted of marking "four parts of the smartphone's backplate with an oil-based pen." How much skill does that require? Does the person doing it even have to know how to read?

      If you move that job to the United States, it isn't going to pay a dime over minimum wage. That's all it's worth. In fact it may not be worth U.S. minimum wage, in which case they will buy a machine to do it instead of hiring anyone at all.

      The days when journeymen machinists and welders made big money doing highly-skilled operations on manufactured goods are gone. They didn't go to China... even in China they use machines to do stuff like that now. When politicians talk about "high paid manufacturing jobs," they are yanking your chain. Automation has pretty much laid waste to that whole class of job, everywhere around the world. What's left is little tasks that they don't automate because they can still find people in the villages of China and Thailand who will do it for peanuts.

      Electronics assembly has been a low-skill, minimum wage endeavor since at least the 1980s when the first auto-insertion machines arrived.
      Robert Hahn
      • You do realize that

        There is no automation in the manufacture of the iPhone and iPad. It's all done by hand.
        Each worker doing one, simple task. Hour after mind numbing hour.
        Cmd_Line_Dino
        • What utter...

          Nonsense! SMT components are not mounted on the PCB by hand. There are plenty of machines on an electronic production line. Even in China.
          bluebeard66
          • Mounting PCB components is not the issue ...this is what I am talking about

            "You might be surprised to learn that the iPad and iPhone are mostly assembled by hand, not by a robotic arm and sophisticated assembly system. It takes your iPhone 141 steps to get from start to finish. The iPad takes 5 days to be assembled by 325 hands."
            The above from a Nightline special when they toured a FoxConn plant

            Each step is some very simple task that a worker does thousands of times per shift
            AND
            no talking is permitted.
            12 hour shifts with two one hour meal breaks.
            Cmd_Line_Dino
  • If Honda and Toyota can do it...

    If Honda can build the Accord and Toyota can successfully build the Camry in USA, and compete very well, while making profit and employing thousands of Americans, then there is little reason that Apple cannot...besides perhaps Moral Deficiency and Rampant Greed.

    We've got to get out of the Mitt Romney Outsourcing Jobs mindset!
    oblio_Arrow
    • Actually, no they couldn't

      The idea that because one item can be manufactured profitably in this country, any item can is patently absurd. Electronics are NOT cars. In fact, the US abandoned most detailed electronics manufacturing decades ago, and the infrastructure to accomplish simply does no exist here anymore.
      In order for these devices to be manufactured here, large infrastructure installations would have to be completed, and huge manufacturing facilities built. In addition, much of the core materials are simply not produced in this country, and are not readily procured here. Their availability is tightly controlled, such that it would simply be impossible to procure enough of it to satisfy even a small percentage of demand.
      It is not all about profit. Some things simply can no longer be done here without major changes in U.S. infrastructure that are beyond the reasonable capabilities of a single company.
      .DeusExMachina.
  • It's complicated.

    Foxconn is to blame first and foremost. Some percentage of their production is for Apple and the rest is for other corporations who should all reevaluate working with them to be sure, but they're the corporation that is allegedly abusing workers. They need to change their ways or go away. I don't believe that all workers in China are abused children, and there are manufacturing plants there that provide ethical work hours and conditions. It's up to the Chinese government to instill those standards in every Chinese corporation, including Foxconn.

    Bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States would mean increasing the manufacturing costs of everything we buy. We would have to decide as a nation that human rights in other countries are more important to us than low manufacturing costs. We would have to convince Congress and the President to cooperate on implementing tariffs on goods from those countries equal to the difference in cost between their manufacturing and ours. What are the chances either of these will happen?

    Manufacturing jobs can actually be fun under good conditions. I worked for awhile assembling tape drives for Colorado Memory Systems, and I never had a single complaint about that job. The best way to fix this is to convince the Chinese government to implement stricter worker rights laws throughout the entire country. It will mean US corporations will have to live with lower profit margins, increase the prices of their products, or some combination of the two. It will also mean a billion people will live better lives.
    stancube
    • Bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States...

      would mean increasing the manufacturing costs of everything we buy.

      I can buy cheap Chinese products but I don't have a job or I can buy expensive American products and I do have a job. I'd prefer the latter and so would my neighbours.
      trm1945
      • Me too!

        I think it would be great to bring back all of the manufacturing jobs we've lost, and I would gladly pay more for everything to make it happen. How do we get there from where we are now?
        stancube
      • Re: I'd prefer the latter

        But your buying decisions to date have led to the former.
        ldo17
    • It's all about profit..

      Apple could manufacture in the USA and still make money.. they would just make less money. It has been proven many times by many different people that Apples products are 'premium' priced items.. They do not reflect the real cost of the item.. just what Apple think they can charge. Foxconn is also not entirely at fault here as Apple wants the manufacturing costs to be as low as possible and I can imagine they, Apple, pushed Foxconn Very hard to minimize the manufacture cost per item. So Foxconn are caught between a rock and a hard place and Apple are being less than honest in all of this. They know that Foxconn are forced to abuse their staff because Apple know how much they are willing to pay for each unit.. I'd imagine apple has a Very good idea of just how hard they are screwing Foxconn and how hard Foxconn have to screw their workforce to get the product at the cost Apple wants to pay. We are ALL culpable in this as we seem to turn a blind eye to the rediculous profits these companies are making and completely forget the cost. I won't buy an Apple product as I know they are one of the worst offenders in the profit game.. just look at their bottom line? Look what they put back into society.. Until recently they didn't even pay dividends.. just sat on a HUGE fortune.. a fortune made almost entirely of blood money. People may moan about MS and google but they put money back.. Why doesn't apple? And WHY do we continue to support them? Sell their shares and don't buy their products.. Easy..
      ursulus
      • Re: It's all about profit..

        Especially since we keep getting told how Apple is single-handedly making most of the profit in the smartphone business. If their margins were lower, that would no longer be true. And then on top of the underwhelming release of their most recent products we’d lose the last unique selling point of choosing Apple.
        ldo17
      • No, it isn't

        Again, it is NOT all about profit. Some steps in the manufacturing process of complicated electtronics like the iPhone simply can no longer be done here. As stated above, the U.S. abandoned significant manufacturing infrastructure vital to their construction decades ago, and without major investment in rebuilding them, U.S. manufacture is simply not possible at any price. In addition, a number of raw materials simply are not available here.
        You quite simply have no idea what you are talking about. First, don't confuse Apple's profit margin with "premium price". You claim it has been proven that Apple's products are "premium price". Please list the tablet computers whose specs are similar or better than the iPad whose price is significantly cheaper (that aren't sold at or close to a loss in exchange for future content sales). You can't because there aren't any. When the competitors came out, it was clear that they could not marshal their supply chains enough to make products that were cheaper. In fact, most were more expensive. That is why they never posed any significant threat to the iPad.
        If you remover the carrier subsidies that the OEMs hide behind, the same if true of the iPhone. Just because your Android headset cost you $99 does not meant that is the real cost. In fact, the true cost is often closer to $700. But this cost gets prorated over two years in higher monthly fees. With most Android models, this price is also hidden by additional carrier subsidies that are added in exchange for additional revenue streams from carrier crapware that is installed on the phone.
        But the true cost of these devices is actually very similar across brands, and that includes the iPhone.
        Nor does your argument that Foxconn are caught in the middle hold much water. The cost difference between providing decent housing and allowing slum conditions is minimal. They chose to do what they do to maximize THEIR profit. You are right that Apple pushes Foxconn to lower prices? So what? There are a number of ways they could do that. You are also right that Apple has a very good idea of how hard they are squeezing Foxconn. This knowledge also includes the fact that they feel that Foxconn is capable of satisfying the contract WITHOUT abusing workers.
        As to your claim that Apple is the "worst offender in the game", please provide ANY proof of this ridiculous assertion. You can't because it isn't true. In fact, Apple is the only major manufacturer with strict workers protection clauses, and workers on Apple's production lines at Foxconn get higher
        wages and more worker protections than any other line at Foxconn.
        As to your last bit about dividends, thanks for making it clear that you don't understand a thing about how business works. MANY companies don't pay dividends. That is hardly the only way to generate wealth from stock. People with significant holding in Apple stock are QUITE well-off, and I doubt are going to take your advice any time soon.
        Question: can you name a single stock analyst with a sell rating on Apple? Even one?
        .DeusExMachina.
  • Apple is one company that might be able to go with "Made in the USA"

    Moving the build back to the USA would result in a device that was more expensive by an even wider margin; but the fan base is rabid enough that there would still be millions of people willing to pay an extra 20% build premium on top of the 30% "logo premium" they already pay.

    Sure millions more customers would move to Android or Windows 8 phones... so the market valuation of Apple would drop about $100 billion. Better dump any shares you have in Apple and assure yourself that the pension funds that invested in it would probably recover over time.

    Maybe Apple could bring out the "to big to fail" mantra and get the government to transfer some money from their competition and the middle class into their coffers like they did for General Motors. What's another $30 billion on top of the $16 trillion they've already racked up eh?

    Those people who work at Foxconn making Apple products would just have to go back the the jobs they held before. You can feel good about liberating them from harsh working conditions at Foxconn while you ignore the fact that they left their old jobs because the pay and/or working conditions were actually worse.

    Maybe oblio_Arrow believes that the attitude of...

    -- Screw all those Chinese workers, to hell with the customers, and the investors in Apple can all go pound sand... so long as we get paid more than our labor is worth! --

    ... is somehow the opposite of "Moral Deficiency and Rampant Greed".
    jcrjohnson
    • Um, what?

      You take both sides of the issue here, so whatever point you are trying to make, you aren't.
      But there are a number of errors in your statements anyway:
      First, no, actually Apple could not manufacture in the U.S., not for 20%% more, or even 100% more. Without a significant amount of infrastructure change, detailed manufacture of this kind in the U.S. simply is not possible on any sort of large scale.
      Second, the U.S. government did NOT pay 16T USD in bailouts. Where on earth do you get this number from?!? The ENTIRE national debt is 16T. Surely you are not claiming that our entire debt burden is due to bailouts!
      .DeusExMachina.
  • ! ! !

    BOYCOTT ALL A*PLE PRODUCTS ! ! !
    A*PLE STINKS ! ! !
    peanut88