Previously Sometimes Interesting featured Guiyu, the Chinese town tasked with disposing most of the world’s electronics. What about the origins of the electronics we buy? It’s probably not a surprise to hear many are also made in China, and sadly the working conditions for those who build iPods isn’t much better than those who take them apart.

Imagine a place where eight workers share a dorm room and televisions only exist in common areas. Imagine a suicide rate so high the employer installs netting on the side of buildings to prevent workers from jumping.

Welcome to Shenzhen, China, home to China’s largest private employer Foxconn, and the site of where much of the world’s electronic components are created.

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Apple Factory in China

Foxconn is the largest private employer in China with nearly one million employees. It provides labor and manufacturing to electronics companies around the world. As of 2011 Foxconn builds components for Acer, Amazon, Asus, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Nintendo, Nokia, Microsoft, Sony-Ericsson and Vizio.

The largest client, however, is Apple; Foxconn is essentially an Apple factory, building nearly all of Apple’s products.

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Working Conditions

Foxconn apple factoryOver 400,000 workers labor tirelessly in the 520-acre Foxconn compound in Shenzhen. All non-senior personnel live in dorms on the premises. Most rooms have 4 sets of bunk beds sleeping 8 to a room.

Hallways in this pseudo Apple factory remain dimly-lit to save energy and keep the temperature down. There aren’t many colors; everything is gray or white. Men’s living quarters are separated from the women, and the only televisions are in the common areas.

There is never warm water in the showers and basic privileges like snacks are forbidden.There have been alleged military-style drills, verbal abuse from supervisors, and overtime is expected. In one case workers were required to work 13 days in a row to fill a large order, sleeping on the factory floor for rest.

One of those instances was in 2010 when the iPhone supply shortage meant production had to ramp-up faster than expected.

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Suicides

Foxconn apple factory suicidesOne worker, 19 year-old Ma Xiangqian (right), moved to Shenzhen looking for work. Growing up on a farm in the country didn’t present much opportunity, so Ma – like so many other rural Chinese – moved to the city in search for higher wages and a better quality of life.

Finding work with Foxconn, Ma was given a job with room and board. Several months into his employment, Ma had a falling out with his supervisor and was moved from the assembly line to cleaning toilets. This was a disgrace to Ma and he was embarrassed for his family.

In early 2010, he decided to jump to his death from the top of the dormitory. Ma Xiangqian had worked 286 hours in Foxconn’s Apple factory in the month before he died – 3 times the legal limit in China. And for all his trouble, Ma was only earning $1 an hour.

Unfortunately there would be 12 other suicides in 2010. Another well-known case involves a worker who jumped to his death for misplacing a prototype iPhone 4. Is the responsibility of such an item worth a human life? It might seem that way to those who value honor and only make one dollar per hour.

Not ignoring the problem, Foxconn started a program to pay families of suicide victims $15,000 as settlements. They soon realized this actually increased the suicides as the money was almost an incentive for the depressed to speed up suicide if it would help their families.

The program was quickly stopped.

Foxconn apple factory

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Improvement in the Future

Foxconn’s Apple factory installed nets along the dormitory ledges to prevent workers from jumping. It was a morbid approach, but it worked; suicides are down in 2011.

Thankfully suicide isn’t the most popular solution to ending one’s experience at Foxconn. Thousands quit every month and the turnover is extremely high.

Foxconn apple factoryThe workers live their lives like a clock: get up, go to work, go home, go to sleep. Rinse and repeat. The best day of the month is the 10th: payday. Workers crowd the ATM’s around Foxconn to withdraw their monthly pay checks which average $130.

Attitudes toward working conditions by the younger generations in China are changing. Gone are the days where it was deemed acceptable – in some cases even honorable – to have a job in a factory. Increased education and technological advancement means the latest generation is more aware of what is considered humane and fair.

Today’s younger laborers have shown a lower tolerance for the extreme and inhumane working conditions their parents endured. The dynamic of cheap labor in China is evolving; as China becomes a technologically advanced nation, the quality of life will hopefully improve.

For now, it can start with the consumers. If the electronic companies who hire Foxconn applied pressure about the labor practices used, Foxconn would surely be forced to listen and make changes.

Foxconn apple factory

Foxconn apple factory

Foxconn apple factory

(Foxconn’s Chinese Apple factory photos courtesy of Joel Johnson, Gizmodo, and the Associated Press)

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Wow ! The Magnific Capitalism World that we live! , srsly i want to join to work with this web-page. I love this page and i only saw this like 5 mins!.

  2. Men and capitalism arent the problem here. This is a communist country using capitalism to keep from loosing power. Its all about power and women are just as involved in that problem. Where “Life, liberty and the PURSUIT of happiness are not guaranteed. and the government has more power than the people. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sex, money, and capitalism are not the issue.

    • I had to reread this a few times for I could swear you were talking about the good ole US of A.

  3. isn`t only china who we must to blame, also we must to thing of cheap products consuming by all developed world. is it worth these kind of slavery? these people pay with their lives cheapers goods in those markets. nice blog. from argentina.

  4. Blaming the issue on communism isn’t solving the issues that they are using capitalism. Plus, look at America, politics = money and power – everyone is sold out. Capitalism turns into/is(always was) corporatism. Now our politicians regardless of side can be purchased.
    All they need to control people are complacent non-thinking people, and a lot of money. TA-DA, now you have a system that is controllable.

  5. greed greed greed is the reason for this all. example i am looking at a emerson desk fan i use on my desk that is about 50 plus years old works great. go buy a desk fan now . how long will it last? how much did it cost to make ? how much are they sold for? and where was it made? greed its so the ceo’s of all these companies mostly US companies can have more of what they feel that they need with total disregard to how it affects there rest of mankind . a sure fire formula for failure . That will bring a hault to this country and to these poor laborers wanting to improve their quality of life. But it will also bring a final demise to those lying , cheating , greed money hungry politictians, ceo’s , and big bussiness owners that allow and promote this formula of failure. I wald by someone “well thats business!” with a grin. i beg to differ. its absolutely disgusting. You can say we are all to blame because we own these computers and such. I put zero amount to blame on myself and others that are not making these decisions and voicing and actions that really can not change these acts are not to blame. we as a whole may be able to make changes to this but very little interest arises in this . People cave up on their internet and hope the car alarm isnt theirs making racket outside . Instead of grabbing a bat and going outside to see what the racket is . zombies of comfort

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