But, thanks to Rob Schmitz, the Shanghai bureau chief for American Public Media's Marketplace and the journalist who helped uncover the fabrications in author and actor Mike Daisey's story about Foxconn factory conditions, the world now has a better idea of what's going on behind Foxconn's closed doors.
In an April 4 report, Schmitz described what he had seen and heard during his visit to Foxconn's Longhua factory campus in Shenzhen, China. According to Fortune, Schmitz is the first public media reporter, and second journalist after Bill Weir of ABC, to be granted an exclusive tour inside one of these factories by Foxconn and Apple public relations.
Paired with an exclusive video showing iPad assembly in action, his report reveals that conditions at this particular factory aren't quite as bad as some might think. The hundreds of thousands of factory workers -- most of whom are migrant workers between the ages of 18 and 25 -- have access to a wide variety of stores, services and facilities located right on the factory's campus. According to Schmitz, the company has spent millions of dollars to build and improve these facilities as well as to provide organized activities for the workers.
However, he also points out that there's still a lot left to be desired, writing,
One of the most common complaints I heard: being treated unfairly by immediate supervisors. Some workers complained about being forced to work even though they were sick. Others said their supervisors didn’t let them bill the overtime they had actually worked. From dozens of interviews, favoritism seems common among Foxconn supervisors. And, of course, nobody is a fan of the work.
His discoveries align closely with those of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which just recently published the results of an audit of three Foxconn factories that manufacture Apple products, two of which are also located in Shenzhen. For example, the FLA reported thus, regarding worker overtime: "The assessors discovered that unscheduled overtime was only paid in 30-minute increments. This means, for example, that 29 minutes of overtime work results in no pay and 58 minutes results in only one unit of overtime pay."
Apple first partnered up with the FLA to run voluntary audits of these Foxconn factories back in January, following the airing of Mike Daisey's story on a broadcast of "This American Life," as well as a series of damning reports on Foxconn factory conditions published by the New York Times.
Months later, so-called iFactories overseas still have lots of room to improve when it comes to the working conditions, and Foxconn seems willing to put in the effort to make these improvements happen. On March 29, Tim Cook personally visited a Foxconn factory that had been accused of improper labor practices. According to Reuters, Cook toured the factory lines and greeted workers during the visit.
In the meantime, it's not likely that Foxconn will be suffering from any lack of workers; as Schmitz explained in his video report, "The work is tedious and boring, but each day, hundreds of people line up outside the factory to apply for jobs here. On this day, 500 applicants -- many of them tired from traveling days from their home village -- arrive with the hopes of working here."
Check out Schmitz's video (above), and read his report in its entirety here. What do you think of his findings so far? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Take a look at the slideshow (below) to see some of the most surprising things uncovered by ABC's Bill Weir during his tour of a Foxconn factory.
On February 21, ABC aired a "Nightline" segment featuring Bill Weir's visit to a Chinese Foxconn factory responsible for making some of Apple's popular devices. During a tour of the factory, Weir says he "expected more robots" but in fact most of the gadgets at Foxconn are made the old-fashioned way: The high tech parts are put together by hand. For example, iPhones are assembled by hand in 141 steps. One iPad takes five days to assemble and passes through 325 sets of hands.
Two shifts of workers toiling in 12 hour shifts can make 300,000 iPad camera modules in one day, not to mention shape sleek iPads out of "raw hunk[s] of aluminum" at a rate of 10,000 per hour. Image via Nightline
Many workers live at the factory, where they pay $17.50 per month to live 7 to a room in Foxconn dormitories. The average starting salary is $285 per month, and workers must pay for their food. Image via Nightline
Workers get two hour-long meal breaks during each 12-hour shift. They eat together in a cafeteria where they pay $.70 a meal. This is about a quarter of their hourly wage. Image via Nightline
In 2010, after a spate of suicides at Foxconn's Shenzen plant, then COO Tim Cook flew to China to investigate the matter. According to Nightline, Cook put together a team of psychiatric experts to examine the issue. It was at that team's suggestion that the infamous nets were installed between the buildings to prevent suicides. There have been 18 worker suicides at Foxconn since 2010. According to Reuters' interview with Fair Labor Association president Auret van Heerden, the group's initial findings from its audit of Foxconn suggested that the suicides could have been "a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."
Weir said he was surprised to see how young the workers were. He said many were in their late teens and no one looked like they could be over 30. Many had left their hometowns, oftentimes in the countryside, in order to get jobs at Foxconn. Weir also toured Chengdu and spoke with the relatives of workers who had left for jobs at Foxconn. According to Cult of Mac, Foxconn may have hidden underage employees when the Fair Labor Association conducted its inspections. While Apple allows for workers as young as sixteen to assemble their products, those eighteen and under are afforded "special protections," according to Apple Insider. These include not being allowed to perform some tasks and working shorter hours than older workers.
When asked how Foxconn would react if Apple suggested doubling workers' pay, Foxconn executive Louis Woo told Weir that the company would welcome a raise for employees. "Why not?" Woo said. "That would be good for the employees and also definitely good for China and good for us."
Workers have to wear static-proof jackets and take "air showers" to make sure the work area remains dust-free. Even one spec of dust could prove ruinous to the iGadgets' delicate innards. Image via Nightline