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Employees at Apple's Hellish Foxconn Factory Feel Life is "Meaningless"

Employees at Apple's Hellish Foxconn Factory Feel Life is "Meaningless"

Photo: altemark/Flickr (CC)

Jason Mick

June 07, 2010

Ah Wei stands weary, at the point of breaking after a long 12-hour shift at Apple’s Foxconn factory.  He understands all too well the sentiments of the employees that committed suicide.  Despite a 30 percent pay raise (which comes at a total cost to Apple of around $3.50 of its $200 in profit per iPad sold), he still only makes $172 USD a month, no where near enough to afford one of the hundreds of iPhones he makes a day.  He still can’t make enough to decently support his family, but he also is afraid if he quits he will be unemployed – left with nothing at all.

In a Bloomberg report he complains, “Life is meaningless. Everyday, I repeat the same thing I did yesterday. We get yelled at all the time. It’s very tough around here.”

Foxconn manufactures motherboards for virtually every major computer or phonemaker.  Among its customers are Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Nokia, HP, and Dell.  However, Apple is one of its biggest partners.  Foxconn manufactures most of Apple’s iPads, iPhones, and iPods.

Amid rampant demand for iPads and iPhones, Foxconn has cracked down on employee freedoms and forced employees to work longer hours, often times unpaid.  Conditions at the Apple plant are reportedly far worse than the working conditions at other Foxconn plants used by Dell, HP, and others.

On the line employees are now forbidden to talk to each other.  They only are allowed 10 minutes of bathroom breaks every 2 hours – even if they are sick.  Noise on the factory floor is so loud that it has damaged many employees hearing – even that of employees like Ah Wei, who wears ear plugs while on the line.

Many employees have reportedly requested transfers out of the hellish factory to one of Foxconn’s other facilities, and had their requests denied.  Ah Wei has tried three times to request a transfer, but has had no luck.

The Shenzhen facility has trappings of a pleasant workplace.  Palm trees surround the factory town that house as many as 420,000 employees.  Inside the town there is a hospital, a collection of restaurants and even a swimming pool.

However, one need only look at the employees to recognize the authoritarian atmosphere.  Men are forced to wear matching blue uniforms whenever they go out, and women wear matching red uniforms.  Security personnel are easily recognizable in their white uniforms.

Liu Bin, an average employee at the plant complains that the company expects workers to work
at least six 12-hour shifts a week (72 hours).  Meanwhile they get inferior medical coverage, are constantly exposed to toxic solvents and vapors, and don’t have enough money to buy nutritious food.  At least one employee has reportedly died of exhaustion this year.

States Liu, “It’s hard to make friends because you aren’t allowed to chat with your colleagues during work.  Most of us have little education and have no skills so we have no choice but to do this kind of job. I feel no sense of achievement and I’ve become a machine.”

Terry Gou, Hon Hai Precision Industry’s chairman of the Foxconn unit, is baffled by the suicides.  The exec, who reportedly enjoys a decadent lifestyle and recently married a new young bride, says he can’t understand why employees would take their lives.  He states, “Are we going to have this happen again?  From a logical, scientific standpoint, I don’t have a grasp on that. No matter how you force me, I don’t know.”

Gou is Hon Hai’s largest shareholder with over 10.8 percent of the company’s stock.  He’s estimated to have assets in excess of $5.9B USD, making him one of the world’s richest men.

Apple Inc., whose sales in industrialized nations are so dependent on Foxconn, is sticking by its partner – for now.  CEO Steven P. Jobs - another one of the world’s richest men - comments, “We are all over this. Foxconn is not a sweatshop.”

_© 2009, DailyTech.

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