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.