So this is the working condition of the very people who physically built into our 'beloved' iPhone & iPad...
No talking, just working 12 hours a day in iFactory hell
STEPHANIE WONG AND JOHN LIU
June 5, 2010
Focus ... a Foxconn staff member works on the production line at the company complex near Shenzhen. Right, Ma Zishan carries a picture of his dead son.Photo: AP/Reuters
Pressure is mounting on electronics company Foxconn to explain its employee suicides, write Stephanie Wong and John Liu in Shenzhen.
Ah Wei has an explanation for the chairman of Foxconn, Terry Gou, why some of his workers are committing suicide at the company's factory near the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.
''Life is meaningless,'' said Ah Wei, 21, his fingernails stained black with the dust from the hundreds of mobile phones he has burnished during a 12-hour overnight shift. ''Every day I repeat the same thing I did yesterday. We get yelled at all the time. It's very tough around here.''
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He said conversation on the production line is forbidden, bathroom breaks are kept to 10 minutes every two hours, and constant noise from the factory washed past his ear plugs, damaging his hearing.
The company has rejected three requests for a transfer and his monthly salary of 900 yuan [$158] is too meagre to send money home to his family, said Ah Wei, who asked that his real name not be used because he is afraid of his managers.
At least 10 employees at Foxconn had taken their lives this year, half of them last month, said the Taiwanese company, also known as Hon Hai Group. The deaths have forced the billionaire founder, Terry Gou, to open his factories to outside scrutiny and apologise for not being able to stop the suicides.
Mr Gou built his company into the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer and now his clients, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, are investigating working conditions.
Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive officer, who depends on Foxconn to make the iPhone and iPad, said the suicides were ''very troubling''.
''We're all over this,'' Mr Jobs said, speaking this week at a technology conference in California. His company did one of the best jobs inspecting suppliers, he said, adding the company was ''not a sweatshop''.
Foxconn's Longhua complex outside Shenzhen spans three square kilometres and is criss-crossed by tree-lined streets with a fountain at the centre.
Workers wearing polo shirts emblazoned with ''Foxconn'' in Chinese characters walk along the streets. Men wear blue, women wear red. Security personnel wear white.
The complex boasts its own hospital, a collection of restaurants and a swimming pool surrounded by palm trees. The workers, 86 per cent of whom are under age 25, live in dormitories with eight to 10 people in a room. The living quarters have stairs running up the outside walls and the company has begun covering them with nets to prevent people from jumping.
At a factory devoted to computer motherboards, rows of young men and women stand at assembly lines, their feet shod in blue slippers and white caps on their heads. The smell of solvent hangs in the air.
About 80 per cent of the front-line production employees work standing up, some for 12 hours a day for six days a week, said Liu Bin, 24, an employee.
''It's hard to make friends because you aren't allowed to chat with your colleagues during work,'' Mr Liu said at Shenzhen Kang Ning Hospital where he was seeking help for insomnia.
''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.'' The company provided counselling for workers such as Mr Liu, said a supervisor, Geng Yubin.
Mr Geng, who has worked six years at Foxconn, said between 30 and 50 workers came to him daily for advice on their personal lives. Common problems were homesickness, financial woes, lovers' quarrels and spats with co-workers, he said.
''For many of the young people who are here, this is the first time they've been away from home,'' Mr Geng said. ''Without their families, they're left without direction. We try to provide them with direction and help.''
Tian Yu fits Mr Geng's description. Ms Tian, 18, had left her parents and a life of growing sweet corn and rice in Hubei province, in central China, to find a job in Shenzhen after graduating from high school, her father, Tian Jiandang, said. She was isolated and without friends at work, he said. She worked at Foxconn for about a year.
On March 17 she jumped from the fourth storey of her dormitory in the Longhua complex.
She survived and was in a coma for almost two months.
Her father still did not know why she jumped and was afraid to ask because he thought it would upset her, he said in an interview by her hospital bed.
Foxconn is paying for her medical care.
The suicides and how to stop them mystify Mr Gou. ''Are we going to have this happen again?'' said Mr Gou, speaking on May 27 when he opened the factory to the largest media gathering in company history. ''From a logical, scientific standpoint, I don't have a grasp on that. No matter how you force me, I don't know.''
Less than a day after Mr Gou had made the remarks, a 23-year-old Foxconn worker jumped to his death, said Shenzhen police. Another worker slit his wrist and was hospitalised.
Mr Gou was born in 1950 in Taipei to parents who emigrated from China.
He formed his company in 1974 with $US7500. Over 36 years, he transformed the company from a supplier of plastic television knobs to the maker of iPhones and Sony PlayStations. Hon Hai Precision Industry generates more revenue each year than Microsoft, Apple and Dell. His net worth reached $US5.9 billion this year, according to Forbes magazine. The basis of his success was clear, said Pam Gordon, the founder of Technology Forecasters, a market research firm specialising in contract manufacturers and supply chains. ''Their prices are lower for high-quality work,'' Ms Gordon said.
Mr Gou's ambition and discipline come through in his workplace interactions, say people who have worked with him.
He could talk for hours without notes and remembered product plans in minute details, they said.
Foxconn won Apple's order to make the iPhone after Mr Gou had ordered the business units that made components to sell parts at zero profit, said two people familiar with the plans, who declined to be named.
The company's labour policies and practices were in line with industry standards and were regularly reviewed by government authorities and customers, Foxconn said in an emailed response to questions.
''The fundamental problem for Foxconn and other Chinese factories is that their business model relies on a low-cost workforce sourced from rural areas of China,'' said Pun Ngai, a professor of applied social sciences at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. ''Due to its size, Foxconn has to be that much tougher than other factories, and has to become more emotionally detached from its employees than others.''
Apple and other computer makers should emulate American toy makers, who faced a similar predicament, said Gene Grabowski, who heads the crisis and litigation practice at Levick Strategic Communications, a public relations firm in Washington.
After Chinese suppliers for Mattel were found to be allowing lead paint into products sold in the US in 2007, the company sent inspectors to watch over the plants and invited the media to monitor improvements. ''Apple is especially vulnerable because Apple's computer buyers tend to be more socially aware,'' Mr Grabowski said.Bloomberg