Undercover Report From Foxconn's Hell Factory

Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly sent 20-year-old reporter Liu Zhi Yi undercover in Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen, China. For 28 days, he experienced dreadful conditions that the factory's 400,000 employees endure, churning out iPods, iPads and iPhones for Apple nonstop.

There's no doubt about it. The Foxconn suicides were caused by job stress. Within half a year, there have been nine suicides attempts with seven confirmed deaths at Foxconn's Shenzhen factory, prompting the company to hire counsellors and even Buddhist monks to free the souls of the suicidal from purgatory.

Foxconn is one of Apple's main manufacturer contractors. Thousands of Mac minis, iPods, iPhones and iPads are assembled daily in the Shenzhen factory, which runs 24/7.

After a sixth suicide attempt in April, Southern Weekly - described by The New York Times as China's most influential liberal newspaper - sent a young reporter to sneak into the factory as a worker. At the same time, they sent a senior reporter to talk with Foxconn's executives. Their mission: To discover what's really going on in that factory and find out the true reasons behind the suicides.

During his 28 days of investigation, Liu Zhi Yi was shocked to discover how the factory workers live in a sort of indentured servitude. They work all day long, stopping only to quickly eat or to sleep. They repeat the same routine again and again except on public holidays. Liu's was surmised that for many workers, the only escape from this cycle was to end their life.

Liu, a graduate student, was chosen because of his young age, since the factory only hires workers in their 20s. He was hired without issue. He signed only one special document: An overtime working agreement that says the company is not responsible for their long hours of working. According to Liu, this voluntary agreement overrules Chinese state regulation.

Foxconn workers only smile on the 10th of every month. That's the day when they get their salaries. That day, the ATM machines inside the factory are crowded with workers. Their monthly salaries start at 900 Chinese Yuan - about $156.

The stress room at Foxconn.

Most of the workers had nothing to say about the popular Apple products they assemble. Most can't afford to own an Apple product. Their salaries can only buy them knockoff versions. While gadget aficionados worldwide discuss which iPhone they should buy, Foxconn workers debate the merits of differing knockoffs.

Tales from the factory

Liu had his most interesting chats with other workers during meals. Some told him that they envied workers who are sick. They get leave approvals and can get some rest. They also discussed about accidents in the factory: One worker got his finger cut-off during production. A few workers think that the machines are cursed. They believe it's dangerous for them to use the machines.

Another worker spoke about one of the favourite activities in the factory lines: He likes to drop stuff on the floor. Why? Workers spend achingly long hours standing up, so they feel that squatting down to grab a fallen object is the most restful moment of their working day.

Workers call their warehouse trolleys their "BMWs". While pulling them around, stacked high with tons of goods, they imagine the real BMW they hope to one day own.

According to one worker, they can't live without these dreams. They dream of becoming rich one day. Some spend part of their salaries buying lottery tickets and betting on horse races.

Workers eat in the on-site cafeteria.

Many wouldn't talk of the suicides. Others joked about it. One of the problems may be the lack of communication and friendships between work colleagues. Many workers don't even know the names of the people working next to them. In fact, according to Southern Weekly, the workers find difficult to relate to each other because they are always wearing identical work uniforms and performing the same tasks everyday. They have no interesting topics to chat about because all they do is work. If an employee becomes too stressed, they often have no one with which to share their feelings or to approach for help solving their problems.

Perhaps the 100 counsellors hired by Foxconn will help. The reporter said that he wishes they had movie theatres and shopping malls inside to help them relax. In the end, Liu concludes that what Foxconn really needs is to be more human and be concerned about the health - mental and physical - of their workers, instead of treating them like dogs.

Chris Chang originally posted about Liu Zhi Yi's Southern Weekly reports on M.I.C. Gadget, a site featuring life, gadgets, and subculture in China.


    @Stevox - Bang on mate. There is too much self entitlement in America's culture. The new generation is breeding it worse than the current one - with any luck they will all self-destruct and fade into their own ignorance. Then they'll realise the rest of the world has seen them as insignificant for this long! I've seen a lot of places - none as uninteresting as America and its people...

      maybe thats just because it's so similar to Australia...

      its horribly sad, people who haven't been replaced by machines like they may have in other places simply because they are cheaper than machines...

    Buy Apple = Support slave labour & suicides.....

      Right, because only apple use foxconn.
      If you own a computer, you probably have a foxconn part.
      Go away and learn.

    Does Steve have a remote controlled cattle prod?

    Sorry, but as buyers of Apple's products we should be ashamed that our money goes towards creating such heinous working conditions.

    If these practices don't change, I promise never to buy another Apple product again.

    During the shift from a product based - to a service based economy, we have seen saw ‘customer value’ disappear through the seventies and eighties, to be replaced by ‘shareholder value’. If the shareholders get all the value – eventually there will be no more ‘customers’, and we’ll all be sitting on top of the hill clutching our bags of money looking down at the wasteland we have created.

    Apple's business plan
    This is a sad commentary on a multi-national that has consistently been voted 'One of the Ten Best Corporations to Work For" . I wonder if these people agree...But, Hey! They work for Foxconn! Why? Because this way Apple totally limits their exposure to the vagaries of the marketplace by NOT investing in Bricks and Mortar and thus avoids Economics 101's marginal cost curve when you outgrow a production facility and have to build a new one... With Foxconn carrying this weight if iPod sales slow down, they can shift some workers to iPhones, or furlough them, furlough enough workers then shut a factory...no loss to Apple...Not enough production for iPads? Find more young labour off the farm and have them sign a no complaints overtime contract. It really sucks however if they were not miserable working for Apple they would be miserable working for someone else most likely. With Apple's record profits from the highest profit margins in the industry, they could easily afford to reduce their quarterly profit margin from 37% to 25%, still live quite lavishly, reward stockholders, and be a model employer- with happy employees-not human rats running on treadmills. Not exactly Dot Steve's earlier M.O. of running Cupertino with fresh juice bars, masseuses, a grand piano pianist playing, and some lovely other civilised perks. These people just want their $158 a month. The price of Dot Steve's oil change for his Mercedes SL500. Sad..very Sad.

    While this is a terrible story of the treatment of human beings no matter which version you read on which website. I expect the mainstream media to call out the iphone relationship for headlines, but really guys this is the first article I have read where Foxconn is made out to be working directly and only for Apple.
    Infusing an agenda into a story like this to play out your petty battle with Apple is low, show some integrity this is a common story with Chinese manufacture that should be exposed and put forefront in all buyers of products made in third world manufacturing conditions.

    It's not only in Apple's factory, these things happens everywhere, especially developing countries! All the factories in Vietnam are the same!

    It's easy for you people to blame Apple straight away but this is how big business is in China... look at everything made in China and then think of the places where it really comes from just like this. In fact compared to a lot of others they are lucky! I think you would find it hard to find much tech these days that isn't made this way, what are you going to do about it..?

    Goes to show the relevance and importance of trade unions - we take our generally great working conditions for granted in this country. I'm wondering whether there will be some sort of campaign to shame Apple into fixing this?

    Foxconn do a lot of stuff for Xboxes too. Not sure how much, but a lot of the pieces have FC's name on them. So it isnt just Apple

    It's not just Foxconn and it's not just Apple. Many multi national organisations exploit third world nations, it's the capitalist way!

    Yes, Apple are far from alone at Foxconn. Dell, HP, Cisco, Nokia, Nintendo, Korn, Motorola, Intel, IBM, Sony and SonyEricsson are also listed as Foxconn customers but with all the fanfare of the iPhone 4 (at the time of this article), who else would you target? Australian and international news sites ran headlines like "Apple Factory Workers Committing Suicide" for a bit of impact while the hype was building around the new iPhone. There were calls to boycott the new iPhone but they seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

    Who is ultimately to blame for all this? We ALL are, as we demand our shiny new hi-tech toys at ever cheaper prices, with or without glowing fruit.

    Remember these suicides when next you sit down in front of your massive Sony TV to play a game of Mario with your kids on the Wii you bought them for christmas!

    ...sorry, gotta go... someone calling me on my iPhone 4...

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