The story behind Apple

A visit to Foxconn’s factories – a report from the field
Published on May 3, 2011 makeitfair.org 

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Exhausted workers during their break

Arriving at the Southern Campus of the largest contract manufacturer Foxconn in Chinese Chengdu in the South Western province Sichuan, the chaos, dirt and dust surprises me. Is this the place where our white, clean and expensive Apple products come from? The site, where the iPad2 is produced, is still under construction. After almost been hit by a construction vehicle, I speak to Hua Wang 19 years-old and wearing a dusk mask. She stands for more than 10 hours per day on an assembly line, putting the Apple logo on the back of the iPad. While including her overtime work her usual work week consists of more than 60 hours, depending on product demand. She tells me she didn’t receive a copy of her contract yet and there were miscalculations in her salary last month.

Apple’s production at Foxconn
Apple is one of the biggest clients of Foxconn. Meanwhile Apple is selling their products with a nice margin; Apple reported a net profit of US$5.99 billion for the first quarter this year. The workers that are making these products are not profiting from this. “I am not satisfied with this paying, because I am extremely tired every day. Besides, my payment is hardly enough for very basic life”, explains assembly worker Hui Li.
In May 2010, there was a wave of workers (18 in total) at Foxconn who tried to commit suicide. This took place in the industrial city Shenzhen, where Foxconn hosts a workforce of half a million people. After this tragedy, Foxconn management raised – just before the Chinese local minimum wage was raise – the basic wage of Shenzhen workers, particularly those working for more than 6 months. Despite this increase, wage levels remain difficult to live on. To accomplish a healthy living wage, most workers work excessive overtime hours, which represents an average workweek between 50 to 60 hours.

Harsh management
Zhi Wang (18) told us that work is tiring and the management can be harsh: scolding, yelling, punishments when making mistakes, getting embarrassed and not talking during work time. “Yesterday, my eighteen year old roommate had to cry in the dormitory”, she explains. ”The management yelled at them because they made a mistake. It’s their first job, they’re here a few months, the workload is high and the work at the assembly line is extreme monotone. As they have sometimes only 2 days off per month, they don’t have any social life and can only visit their family once a year, during Chinese New Year.”

Excessive overtime
During an interview with the media, Foxconn management explained that workers are not allowed to chit chat at work, because then they’ll lose concentration. Concentration and discipline is the nature of the work. Therefore, standing the whole day or sometimes at night is better than sitting, because if workers are tired they might lose their concentration and make mistakes.
Foxconn management agrees that overtime work is still a problem in their factories. Foxconn is breaking Chinese law which states that working more than 36 hours per week is prohibited. They are also breaking the EICC (Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition) code that says you have to follow local laws regarding overtime hours. The EICC establishes standards to ensure that working conditions in the electronics industry supply chain are safe, that workers are treated with respect and dignity and that business operations are environmentally responsible. Foxconn is a member of the EICC.

Call for fair electronics
Foxconn is a key player in the global electronics supply chain and a major supplier to brand companies as Apple. As such, Foxconn has a pivotal position and an even greater responsibility to have a lead in responsible manufacturing and upholding international and national labour standards. Furthermore, Apple is one of Foxconn’s biggest clients which means that they should use their brand power and influence to improve the working conditions in these factories where their products are being made.. Workers who are making the products suffer from excessive overtime and receive a salary which could hardly support their humble lifestyle, while at the same time they are inhumanly treated by management GoodElectronics and makeITfair are calling upon fair production of electronics on their International Action Day on the 7th of May: Apple, as leader in marketing, design and innovation needs to take on responsibility! Consumers around the world have an urgent appeal: It’s time to bite into a fair Apple!

To protect the identity of the workers, all names of the workers has been changed.

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