With the recent controversy surrounding working conditions in Chinese plants run by Foxconn -- the chief parts supplier for Apple and several other goliath technology corporation -- you might be wondering what the inside of one of these factories looks like, and what an average day consists of for a factory worker. Though select journalists have been granted guided, no doubt sanitized, tours of the plants; and though firebrands and protestors have offered up their (some times selectively, purposefully fictionalized) versions of events, we have not really gotten a candid, unbiased glimpse inside one of these manufacturing centers.
A video posted to YouTube may have changed all that. The Swedish user ("AnteboyanROX") who uploaded the video writes in the video description that he had purchased a new HP laptop and was snooping around when he found some rather strange footage pre-loaded in the "My Documents" folder. The footage, which he uploaded to YouTube, appears to show about three minutes of Chinese assembly line workers quality-testing the audio and video on dozens of HP laptops; the video was likely shot with the laptop's webcam and was mistakenly left undeleted when the computer shipped out to the retail store. The clip was uploaded to Reddit and has been ping-ponging around the web throughout the day; if the footage is legit, it could be one of the more untainted peeks inside a Chinese electronics plant we've ever seen.
You can watch the video below. Note that the uploader got a little, um, effects-happy at around the 2:00 mark:
Most commenters have remarked on the dull repetition of the work, though not many see anything approaching worker cruelty in these scenes. John Biggs of AOL sister company TechCrunch -- one of those select journalists who has actually been inside a Foxconn plant -- seems to voice the consensus, declaring that the video shows a mundane but not inhumane life:
Essentially, you’re looking at the face of modern manufacturing. He’s not mistreated, he’s not chained to his desk, but he’s building the same thing, over and over again, a prospect not many of us would relish. It’s a mundane view inside a fairly secret world that we as consumers rarely get to see.
You can find Biggs' four-part series on life inside the Foxconn campus here. Know, too, that Biggs' portrait of Foxconn is not accepted as gospel by everyone.
This kind of back-and-forth -- over who has seen and heard what, and under what circumstances -- underlines why this kind of video of perfectly unblemished video is so fascinating to watch. Because of the unavoidable biases present in all reporting and writing, an accidental video might be the most impartial witness we have to what the inside of a tech manufacturing factory is really like. This video (if real) does not tell the entire story -- it's only three minutes, and the camera stays in one location of the plant, after much of the more dangerous work of production has already been completed -- but it is more illuminating and educational than no candid footage at all. One can't help but hope but more of these videos, from all over the factory, with longer runtimes, might accidentally pop up in other retail Hewlett Packard laptops, too.