US ABC’s Nightline program delivered what they claimed would be an unprecedented look inside the Foxconntroversy: their TV crew would have unfettered access to facilities and people. So what did they expose?
The ABC team, along with members of the Fair Labor Association, toured the plant, occasionally shaking hands with a labourer or being fed nothings by an eager Foxconn executive.
The program was dazzled by Foxconn’s scale — which is admittedly amazing — and spent more time putting together productivity stats and numbers than anything else. Some of them were more arresting than others: Foxconn workers have to pay for their meals and housing, and each iPhone takes 141 steps to assemble. Other factoids you could’ve surmised given the bajillion gadgets ushered out of the plant each day. Massive sales require massive production on a massive scale, of course.
What the exposé touched on, but ended before it could satisfy, was truly getting inside the workers’ heads. A couple were given a few moments to comment on how tired they were, or how they wished for more pay, but given the fact that virtually everything Apple sells is put together by hand in shifts that consume most workers’ conscious lives, we missed the human consequence of this labour. Smoothing out the edges of an Apple logo all day every day, with little time in the outside world can’t be good for you. We saw hints of this — employees passing out at their workstations in the spare minutes after mealtime — but it was glossed over, chalked up as a Chinese dining tradition by a Foxconn exec, as opposed to exhaustion.
The show was worth the glimpse of these faces and the questions they prompt, but hardly a tidy answer to how those faces are being treated. The president of the FLA, Auret van Heerden, cheerily said he expected Foxconn to put on a show during the audit — which Apple paid for — as he walked among the glass-eyed faces picking up iPad parts with tweezers, ad infinitum. It was a revealing tour, but ultimately, just a tour.