A Chinese company called Foxconn builds gadgets for Apple, Nintendo, HP and others. On July 9, one of its factory workers lost track of an iPhone prototype.
Days later, this worker, named Sun Danyong, leapt off a 12-story building and fell to his death in an apparent suicide.
Since, there have been allegations that Foxconn security guards roughed up Sun Danyong after the iPod prototype went missing and that this treatment led to his suicide.
Foxconn denies any connection, but Sun Danyong’s family told the New York Times Foxconn paid them $44,000 after Sun Danyong death. Sun Danyong’s girlfriend says Foxconn gave her a new Apple computer.
Are working conditions at the factories where our gadgets are made so miserable that they could push a worker to suicide?
We don’t know. But here are two accounts of life in those factories.
The first is from a New York Times report following Sun Danyong’s death. The second is from a report published by watchdog group China labour Watch. It’s supposedly written by a factory worker who makes $220 a month on the job. At the very least, it portrays working conditions few of us would tolerate.
A reporter toured two of the company’s campuses in Shenzhen on Friday, including the one where Mr. Sun worked. The campuses were so large they contained retail stores, banks, post offices and high-rise dormitories with outdoor swimming pools.
The reporter was not allowed to see manufacturing lines because the company said it had to protect trade secrets.
Outside the gates of one campus, most workers interviewed independently of the company said they were well treated. One of about 15 workers questioned admitted to being forced to work overtime above the legal limit.
A Foxconn Worker’s Story
I was raised in a farmer’s family with five family members: my grandfather, parents, older brother and I. We own about eight acres of land, but since my grandfather is elderly, he cannot help my parents grow crops. My older brother is in college, and as for me, I am currently 19 years old, and just last month I was recruited by Foxconn through the arrangement my school. Besides the earnings from growing crops, there is no additional income for my family. In the past, we had owed some money to relatives because my parents had to support my brother and my education. Since I just graduated from a technical school, I was able to leave home to work and send some money home to pay for my brother’s education and other debts.
After graduation, I was told by my school that it could arrange for my classmates and me to work at Shenzhen Foxconn. The school then gave us an introduction of Foxconn. At that time, I knew Foxconn’s campus in Shenzhen is huge, but had no idea just how big it was until I got there.There were about 200 of us, guided by school teachers heading to Shenzhen. It took us about 30 hours by train and then by bus to reach Shenzhen Foxconn.
I was placed in a dormitory that has 10 three-level bunk beds, thus accomodating 30 people. While many people refused to stay there at that time, the management said that it is much better than the other dormitories on site that are shared by hundreds of workers. Although I still had some negative feelings towards the dorm room, at the same time, I felt lucky for not having to live in a dorm room shared by hundreds. Just the second day living in the dorm, however, I found my safe box open, and my walkman gone. There was nothing I could do but to try to tell myself that I was lucky because it was not that expensive.
The training begins immediately on the second day upon our arrival. At first I thought we would be informed of some professional operative skills and knowledge, but instead, we were taught the factory’s regulations, culture, and acknowledgment of Foxconn’s business concept. By now, I think it is safe to say that the training is a part of Foxconn’s brain washing process. A supervisor told us that working at Foxconn requires total obedience; you do not need to be intelligent or highly skilled. After a week of training, we concluded that at Foxconn, we shouldn’t treat ourselves as human beings, we are just machines. During the week, we also had a health examination, a very simple blood test, a blood pressure test and a vision test. We did not receive any results afterwards.
After the one week of in-class training, we begin our on-site training, which is a modest way of telling us that we have to work as long as regular workers, with minimal compensation. Since we are still under training, Foxconn did not give us a contract to sign.
I consider myself lucky because one week after the on-site training I was selected by a CCPBG recruiter, which means I am officially a regular worker. When the selection takes place, it seems like a slave market where slave owners get to pick suitable slaves. There were about a couple hundred of us going through on-site training, and when the recruiters from other companies on Foxconn campus come, all of us have to stand straight in lines, putting our hands behind our backs, and wait for these recruiters to pick. After the selection ends, those who did not get picked go back to their work post. They cannot become regular workers until being picked so I was very lucky to be selected the first week. Many of my classmates are still doing on-site training waiting to be picked.
20 people including myself were selected and brought to the workshop where I will finally begin as a regular worker. First, the supervisor and assistant manager explain to us the rules of the workshop: no talking at work, no leaving work post at will, and etc. Then, the section supervisor gave us a lecture, emphasising that we are no longer in school and that we have to work hard. Afterwards, I was assigned to my post, and few days later, I was offered a contract to sign. Since I was very inexperienced at that time, I did not even look at the contract details, and I still have yet to take a look at what exactly is on my contract.
My work post at that time was connecting computer wires. Later, I was assigned to another production line that produces CD-ROMs. I believe the whole workshop is producing for Sony.
Everyday I wake up at 7 AM, head to the workshop at 7:30 AM, place all personal items that contain metal, such as mobile phones, keys, pens and etc., into the shoe shelf, change into my uniform, and begin working at 8 AM. Although CCPBG states that work begins at 8 AM, it actually requires workers to be present at the workshop by 7:30 AM, and those 30 minutes are unpaid.
My current position is at the end of the production belt, installing four screws onto each CD-ROM case. At first I was not very skilled, and many times, either I was not able to install screws fast enough, decelerating the production or the screws were too loose. Thus the first week, I was often insulted by my supervisor. It was at that time when many workers decided to quit, not having been paid the adequate wages that we deserved. Like those workers, I was on the verge of quitting, but after I thought about my brother’s education, and my family’s limited income, I stayed. I am much better at my job now, though the speed of the production line moves so quickly that I have to continue to install screws on the CD-ROMs nonstop until lunch time, which is at noon. Before exiting the workshop, we have to go through a metal detector test, and if the alarm goes off, security will need to conduct a search to find the cause. If the cause is not work-related, we are allowed to pass.
We have a one hour lunch break. During break, the whole campus is filled with people, and we have to be very careful not to run into anyone. The situation in the canteen is even worse, and I generally have to wait more than 10 minutes to get the meal. The lunch meal consists of two meat dishes and one vegetable dish, and rice is self-service, though I don’t recommend taking too much rice since left over rice results in a fine. Since I always finish what I have on the plate, I am not too certain of the details of the fine.
At 1 PM, we return to our work and continue what was left off earlier this morning. The afternoon is the most difficult part of the day, and since there is no time for nap after lunch, I often feel drowsy. We get off work at 5 PM, have dinner, rest for a while, and then at 6 PM overtime begins. We usually get off work at 8 PM, having completed two hours of overtime. However, if we were unable to complete the production quota in the allotted time, we would be insulted by supervisors and asked to work until the quota is reached. Moreover, those additional hours are unpaid. I was told by other experienced workers that each month there are about 10 overtime hours uncounted, excluding the extra 30 minutes of unpaid work each morning.
Since I have been standing at the same spot working for more than 10 hours, when I return to the dorm at night, I feel so exhausted and don’t want to move. The dormitory is very inconvenient. I have to walk to the other side of the dormitory to take a shower, drink water, or use the bathroom. Since there’s only one shower room on each floor, I often have to wait for a long time before I can take a shower and go to sleep.
Although the dormitory is free, my classmate and I decided to move out for safety reasons. Now, I live in a one bedroom apartment about 25 minutes’ drive from Foxconn. The rent is 300 RMB and we split the cost. Including the bus fare, which is 4 RMB roundtrip, about 120 RMB a month, I spend about a total of 270 RMB a month. Although I have to wake up much earlier to go to work, I feel much safer.
I was told by other workers that it is difficult to distinguish between peak and slow season at Foxconn. When it is busy, we have to work more than 10 hours a day and most likely get one off day a month. When work is slow, we still have to work over 10 hours a day, though we have three to four off days a month. This month I have only two off days, and since the crime rate at where I live is high, and I have often heard cases of robberies nearby, I usually stay home when I don’t have to work. When my classmate and I miss our homes, we cook some of our local dishes as a remedy to our homesickness.
There is too much pressure during the day. I never have time to think, and only at night would I think about my parents at home. I want to call them, but there’s no time to call during the day, and at night, I feel guilty calling because my parents are probably exhausted from working in the field all day. The only chance I have to call them is on my off days. Perhaps in the future, when the company switchs me to night shifts I would have more opportunities to call home.
As for the future, I have not thought about it yet. Currently I earn about 1,500 RMB a month, which includes the minimum wage of 750 RMB and all the overtime hours I have worked. I will continue to work at Foxconn until my brother graduates and all the debts in the family paid off. Life is too difficult here. I feel like I have no self-esteem.
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