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Foxconn employees endure hellish working conditions to earn a tiny wage for building Apple's iPads, iPods, and iPhones.  (Source: Southern Weekly)

The conditions are so bad, some employees have taken their own lives. Foxconn has created the "stress room", a place where emloyees can be away their rage and frustration, in hopes of decreasing the suicide rate.  (Source: Southern Weekly)
Apple's parts supplier Foxconn faces more controversy

Last time a reporter tried to penetrate Apple's veil of secrecy, security guards employed by their parts supplier, Foxconn, beat up the reporters involved.  But questions had to be answered in the wake of the suicide/potential murder of a Foxconn employee which occurred after the employee lost an iPhone prototype.

Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly was determined to find out the true story, and sent a reporter in undercover, posing as a new employee.  Given the fact that Foxconn's Shenzen plant that builds Apple's iPads, iPods, and iPhones has 400,000 employees, that part wasn't too hard.

What was hard, was for the reporter to endure the plant's reportedly hellish working conditions for 28 days. 

So far in the last four and a half months seven workers from the plant have committed suicide, and at least 9 have attempted suicide.  According to reporter Liu Zhi Yi who infiltrated the plant, the likely reason why was that they felt taking their own life was the only option to escape the hellish working conditions of the plant.

According to Liu, the plant makes employees work around the clock, only pausing briefly to eat or sleep.  Most of the time the employees are standing, seldom able to sit down and rest their weary legs.  This is perfectly legal, as employees are required to sign a special overtime document that override Chinese workplace laws and essentially allows the employer to demand whatever hours they want from you, without additional compensation.

Foxconn pays the workers far too little for them to hope to buy one of the Apple products they assemble.  It pays them only 900 Chinese Yuan a month —about $130 USD.  Still the workers have dreams.  They joke that their carts that they haul Apple materials on are "BMWs", dreaming of real BMWs.  They buy lottery tickets and bet on horse races in hopes of miraculously being handed an escape from their purgatory.

But for most, they will live out their lives slaving away to build Apple's products, constantly in danger, while earning only a pittance.  So, according to the newspaper there's little surprise some employees fall into deep despair.

Foxconn at the request of Apple and Chinese state officials has made some steps to decrease the suicide rates.  It's hired counselors and given workers dummies to beat on to vent their rage.  And it's even been so kind as to hire Buddhist monks to allow the souls of those who committed to suicide to escape purgatory.

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Let's put this into context...
By Estee on 5/19/2010 4:13:42 PM , Rating: -1
You left out quite a bit of info including:

"This super factory that holds some 400,000 people isn't the 'sweatshop' that most would imagine. It provides accommodation that reaches the scale of a medium-sized town, all smooth and orderly."

"Each employee would sign a 'voluntary overtime affidavit,' in order to waive the 36-hour legal limit on your monthly overtime hours. This isn't a bad thing, though, as many workers think that only factories that offer more overtime are 'good factories,' because 'without overtime, you can hardly make a living.'"

On top of all of this, the average chinese villager, from which the Foxconn employee comes from barely make what they take in a month at Foxconn. Although some conditions are not acceptable for western countries, the environment there works quite well for the majority of employees. This is first hand accounts and not from just reading a biased article either.

RE: Let's put this into context...
By ET on 5/19/2010 4:56:14 PM , Rating: 2
"Each employee would sign a 'voluntary overtime affidavit,' in order to waive the 36-hour legal limit on your monthly overtime hours. This isn't a bad thing, though, as many workers think that only factories that offer more overtime are 'good factories,' because 'without overtime, you can hardly make a living.'"

I think it was reasonable to not quote this, as it just underscores that employees are getting a bad salary and work extra long hours, points the article has already mentioned. Although this does suggest that the practice is standard.

By CurseTheSky on 5/19/2010 4:57:24 PM , Rating: 3
Yes, these workers do tend to make a better living at these "hellish" factories than they would "on the own," at least from what I have read in the past. I don't personally have a problem with voluntary employment even if it does have comparatively poor (but humane) conditions; however, I do have a problem with multi-billion dollar companies that let this stuff go by day to day and only think of their bottom line.

While, no doubt, thousands of businesses are guilty of such practices, it really hits home with Apple. For a business that brags about their trendiness and has somewhat of a "don't buy their stuff, buy ours and save the Earth / Kids / Family Values / Whales" attitude, you'd think they'd jump ship over night, halting production of their products, and immediately looking for somewhere that will manufacture their gadgets without driving their employees to suicide.

But nope, developing (and subsequently banking millions or billions on) the latest and greatest gadget is far more important.

RE: Let's put this into context...
By Yawgm0th on 5/19/2010 5:15:27 PM , Rating: 2
There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.

Sure, things could be worse for the Foxconn employees. That doesn't excuse the inhuman working conditions or the low wages. The market could bear increased wages without a significant adjustment the demand curve of Apple products or, ultimately, output. Even the point at which marginal revenue meets marginal cost wouldn't be drastically altered for Apple. Total revenue minus total cost and average revenue minus average cost, would, of course, would be reduced.

Jobs, however, is no Henry Ford, nor is the leadership at Foxconn. In the absence of legitimately benevolent corporate leadership, strong (not overbearing; just strong) regulation of working conditions, hours, and wages is necessary. China is called communist or socialist erroneously, capitalist hyperbolically. and state capitalist, somewhat accurately. The reality is that China is essentially a feudal state, with workers owing their lives to corporate (feudal) lords for subsistence wages.

Yes, China would be worse off without western globalization and an undervalued yuan giving them huge manufacturing labor market share. That doesn't mean that the plight of their workers should be ignored, morally hedged, or justified simply because they're "better off".

RE: Let's put this into context...
By borowki2 on 5/19/2010 5:48:22 PM , Rating: 1
The suicide rate in China is a bout 14 per 100,000 adults per year. So in a factory with 400,000 workers, we would expect 56 suicides a year, or about 19 over a four and a half months. The fact that only seven did so shows that Foxconn workers are less depressed than the general. In fact, the suicide rate at the factory is lower than that of the US. More iPhone owners likely had committed suicide in the same timespan.

RE: Let's put this into context...
By wiz220 on 5/19/2010 6:23:03 PM , Rating: 2
Ya, I was also going to ask, if you took the standard suicide rate of the population, is 16 suicides/attempts out of line with a sample size as large as 400,000 individuals? Also, do we have suicide notes from these people saying "I can't take it at the factory anymore" or are we assuming that work was the cause?

RE: Let's put this into context...
By wiz220 on 5/19/2010 6:29:21 PM , Rating: 3
Just wanted to clarify. I'm not defending Apple here, if they have the power to do so, I think they should definitely strive to make conditions better for the people producing their products. Apple, after all, has FAR higher margins than most other companies (even in other industries) and could easily afford it. As others pointed out, other companies have been held accountable and now do a better job of monitoring the conditions of the third party companies producing their goods.

My primary point was that some of the data COULD be skewed a bit and not give the full picture.

By gabetowers on 5/24/2010 7:41:44 PM , Rating: 2
Another thing that must be post into context is how much $130/month can buy in communist China. I visited ShenZhen and there is no lack of people comming from the communist part of China to get a job one one of the countless factories there. They work hard, save money and they go back to their village as "kings". And the fact is that Foxconn is not doing anything illegal. People there work there because they want. If they don't want, they can always go back to the village they came from.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad

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