Apple manufacturing plant workers complain of long hours, militant culture
By Chi-Chi Zhang, CNN
updated 8:43 AM EST, Mon February 6, 2012
Chengdu, China (CNN) -- Miss Chen stares curiously
at the iPad. Even though she works overtime in a factory in southwestern
China that manufactures them, she's never seen the finished product.
"Wow, I want it," said Chen, brushing her finger across the glossy screen with curiosity and amazement.
The 18-year-old student from a village outside of the southern
megacity of Chongqing is one of more than one million factory workers at
a Chinese company that helps manufacture products for Apple Inc.'s
lucrative global empire, which raked in a record $46.3 billion in sales
At a factory about an hour west of Sichuan's capital Chengdu, Foxconn
Technology Group, one of Apple's biggest manufacturing partners.
Foxconn employs hundreds of thousands who work day or night shifts,
eating and sleeping at company facilities, as they help build
electronics products for Apple and many other global brand names, such
as Amazon's Kindle and Microsoft's Xbox.
Chen's name has been changed for this story. She told CNN that all
her Foxconn colleagues have been instructed not to talk to any reporter
or "criminal liability shall be investigated according to law."
Apple criticized for factory conditions
Report: Chinese workers threaten suicide
Rights groups like Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin and Students
and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior say that Foxconn's stringent
military-like culture is one of surveillance, obedience and not
challenging authority. Workers are told obey or leave.
It's an oppressive culture that labor groups say contributed to a slew of suicides in 2010 at the company's Shenzhen plant -- prompting Foxconn to install nets in an effort to prevent employees from jumping.
As a poor college student with no work experience, looking for job in
China's competitive market is an uphill battle. So when Chen was
offered a one-month position at Foxconn during the Spring Festival --
with promises of great benefits and little overtime, she jumped at the
Her heart fell after arriving at the Foxconn factory, when she found
out only senior employees get such benefits and sick leaves. Ms. Chen
said she's also forced to work overtime on a regular basis.
Foxconn employees have a saying, 'they use women as men and men as machine'
"During my first day of work, an older worker said to me, 'why did
you come to Foxconn? Don't ever think about it again and leave right
now'," said Chen, who plans to return to her studies at a Chongqing
university soon. "Foxconn employees have a saying, "they use women as
men and men as machines."
Foxconn is a part of Taiwan's Hong Hai Precision Industry Co. which
supplies iPads and iPhones. Foxconn recently released a statement
defending its corporate practices, stating its employees are entitled to
numerous benefits including access to health care and opportunities for
promotions and training.
"Foxconn takes our responsibility to our employees very seriously and
we work hard to give our 1.2 million employees in China a safe and
positive working environment and compensation and benefits that are
competitive with all of our industry peers in that location," said
Foxconn in an email statement to CNN.
In response to questions from CNN, Apple released this statement: "We
care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. We insist that
our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with
dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing
processes wherever Apple products are made. Our suppliers must live up
to these requirements if they want to keep doing business with Apple."
We work hard to give our 1.2 million employees in China a safe and positive working environment
Statement from Foxconn
Apple officials also noted last month it became the first company
admitted to the Fair Labor Association, "a leading nonprofit
organization dedicated to improving conditions for workers around the
In an email to Apple employees, CEO Tim Cook said the company cares
about every worker and "any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue
with working conditions is cause for concern."
Despite widespread reports of poor working conditions, some experts
say Foxconn factories still offer better benefits and surroundings than
most factories in China -- providing air conditioning, heating and clean
dorms for its employees.
"These companies are making huge profits but workers feel that they
are not getting a fair share," said Geoffrey Crothall of China Labour
Bulletin. "But just because Apple is making a profit doesn't mean they
are passing that onto Foxconn; the margins are slim."
Crothall said it's important to empower workers. But it's also a
challenge for Apple to find a manufacturer that delivers the quality and
speed Foxconn can with its vast resources, he added.
After three weeks of applying more than 4,000 stickers a day onto
iPad screens by hand and working 60 hours a week in an assembly line,
Chen says she's ready to go back to school and study hard so she'll
never have to return to Foxconn.
"It's so boring, I can't bear it anymore. Everyday is like: I get off
from work and I go to bed. I get up in the morning, and I go to work.
It is my daily routine and I almost feel like an animal," said Ms. Chen,
who aspires to become a biologist.
When asked why humans do machine-like work at Foxconn, she responds, "Well, humans are cheaper."
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