"Some of my roommates weep in the dormitory. I want to cry as well but my tears have not come out."
These are the words of a 22-year-old woman working at the Foxconn factory in Chengdu, China, a manufacturing facility that solely produces Apple products, as recorded in a new report by the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), two non-profit advocacy groups.
Foxconn became infamous last summer, when a rash of suicides at its Shenzhen factory made national news. Apple returned to Foxconn to check out conditions, and judged that the appropriate measures had been taken to ensure that workers were safe. Workers at the Shenzhen location received a raise, though it was not shared by those at the Chengdu and Chongqing factories.
The report reveals that conditions at Foxconn's Chengdu manufacturing facility do not meet the standards of the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct, which states that workers can work no more than is legal, must work voluntarily and in safe conditions, and that workers be "treated with respect and dignity." Employees are now required to sign a pledge that they will not try to kill themselves, and that if they do, their families will not seek legal damages beyond the minimum.
Workers at Foxconn are overworked, underpaid, and made to live, in their words, like "robots," according to information provided in the report.
Though the legal limit for overtime is 36 hours a month, workers regularly work 80 to 100 hours of overtime in continuous shifts that cut or reduce meal breaks. While such overtime is technically voluntary, those who do not agree to work overtime say they are often penalized by being denied overtime in off-season months, when they need the money for living expenses, the report says.
“If there is no overtime at all, I will only receive the basic salary. Hence, I have no choice,” one worker told the researchers that compiled the report.
According to SACOM, an average day for a Foxconn worker begins at 6:45 AM, when the workers wake and begin to line up for the half-hour long bus ride to the factory. Each bus is crammed with 70 people, all of whom must stand the entire way to work. Once they get there, they work for three hours until lunch, after which they work for another five hours, break for dinner, and then work again for two more hours. In continuous shifts, workers must skip a meal, and reduce the length of the other from an hour to half an hour. When the day is over, they crowd back into the buses to stand all the way back to the dorms.
"Yes, I am hungry and exhausted when I have to skip dinner. During night shift, I cannot stand continuous shift at all. It’s very difficult to endure the non-stop work,” one worker was quoted as saying.
Most workers, asked what they would want to do on a vacation, answer, “sleep.”
Even when workers can break, the only place they can go to rest is the floor. There, they nap or smoke alone, with little interaction with each other.
"We have to queue up all the time. Queuing up for bus, toilet, card-punching, food, etc. During recess, we don’t have a place to sit. We can only sit on the floor," one said.
Workers accused of slacking, or otherwise failing to fulfill their duty, are forced to write a confession letter to their supervisor, or, if the mistake is especially large, read the letter out in front of all their co-workers in a scene of public humiliation, the report says. One worker was made to stand in the corner of the factory with his hands behind his body for giggling and talking with a co-worker.
Louis Woo, a spokesperson for Foxconn told the Daily Mail that the humiliations are "not something we endorse or encourage. However, I would not exclude that this might happen given the diverse and large population of our workforce. But we are working to change it."
The report describes extremely poor health conditions at the factory, with sick leave difficult to obtain. Chemicals used in assembly are often harmful, but workers are not told about the possible dangers. One woman, whose job it was to remove extra glue from iPad cases, developed a red rash on her legs, arms and face from using industrial alcohol to complete her task.
In another department at the factory, aluminum dust fills the air, covering their hands, clothes, and faces.
“I’m breathing in dust at Foxconn just like a vacuum cleaner. My nostrils are totally black everyday,” one worker reported.
Even when workers are off, the restrictive living conditions provide no relief from work. Workers, who have to pay for both food and housing, live in crowded rooms that each sleep up to 24, and are not permitted to use hairdryers or electric kettles. Workers interviewed by SACOM say the food provided by Foxconn is close to inedible
“On the first day, I almost vomited after eating the food in canteen. I’ve never eaten something which tasted worse than that," one man said.
Though workers are paid 1,300 CNY, about half of what living wage would be in the area, they are often underpaid due to common miscalculations in wages and missing pay slips. Foxconn workers tell SACOM that the complaints are often met with silence or inaction.
In January, such a miscalculation sparked unrest in the dormitory where workers threw bottles and trash in protest, according to what workers told SACOM. Over 200 police came in to put the incident down and about 20 workers were arrested. Foxconn told media, however, that the clash was not work related, but a result of personal issues workers had with each other.
Apple, which saw its revenue hit a record-breaking high at $26.74 billion in the first quarter of 2011, has already sold over 20 million iPads. Workers at Foxconn's Chengu factory would have to spend at least 2 months' salary to afford an iPad.
"I cannot afford it," one worker said. "I come from a village to sell my labor at Foxconn, all I want is to improve the living conditions of my family."