Foxconn chairman equates iPhone-creating workforce to animals


First reported by Want China Times earlier today, chairman Terry Gou was meeting with senior managers and stated “”Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.” Hon Hai is the parent company of Foxconn, the company responsible for creating the majority of iPhones and iPads for Apple. Gou also stated that he would like to learn from the director of the Taipei Zoo, Chin Shih-chien, as to how animals should be managed. While it was also reported that these comments were possibly made in jest which was lost in the translation, the working conditions of Foxconn employees are certainly no joking matter.

terry-gouIn a recent taping on This American Life, author Mike Daisey recorded an interview regarding a visit to Shenzhen, China where the Foxconn manufacturing plant is located. While Foxconn also manufacturers electronics for Dell, HP, Lenovo, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony, Daisey specifically toured the plant where employees create Apple’s MacBook Pros, iPhones and iPads. Foxconn employees have recently been in the news after a threat of mass suicide was issued over a pay dispute, but resolved the issue a few days later. While you can listen to the entire interview at this link, here’s a summation of the working conditions inside the 430,000 person-strong factory that produces Apple’s hardware according to Daisey:

  • Living within dormitories inside the factory walls, employees are packed into 144 square foot (12-by-12) cement rooms with 15 beds stacked up like bunk-beds. Employees are often placed into rooms where they do not know anyone as well.
  • Any attempt at forming a union is met with arrest and a prison sentence as unions are illegal within China.
  • Workers cleaning iPhone screens used a chemical called hexane, specifically because the chemical solution evaporates faster and allows the production line to speed up. However, hexane is a neuro-toxin. Inhalation of hexane causes mild euphoria, followed by nausea and headaches. Repeated exposure causes extensive peripheral nervous system failure, a result that Daisey spotted as the hands of the workers on the line shook involuntarily. 
  • Five percent of the workers Daisey spoke to were underage, some as young as twelve. The children working at the factory mentioned that Foxconn doesn’t check ages and shifts older employees to the front line when inspections occur.
  • FoxconnThe standard working shift at the plant lasts 12 hours, but that’s pushed up to 16 hours when Apple is getting ready to launch a new gadget like the upcoming iPad 3. However, a worker on a 34 hour shift dies while Daisey tours the facility.
  • On the factory floor, there’s no talking allowed among the 20,000 to 30,000 workers. There’s also little machinery on the floor since labor costs are far lower than machines. However, Gau has stated publicly that investing in advanced automation is a high priority.
  • Workers that have developed severe carpal-tunnel issues from repeating the same process over and over are simply fired. Foxconn could eliminate this issue by rotating jobs between employees, but they do not.
  • Workers that get severely injured on the job are fired without any severance and workers that complain about working conditions are fired as well as black-listed with all companies that operate within Shenzhen.

According to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in the same interview, he estimates that workers in the Foxconn manufacturing plant make approximately $250 a month. This comes out to less than $10 a day or about 75 cents an hour on a standard 12-hour shift, far less when a new product is going to be released. 

Apple has remained silent on the manufacturing process in China, but has made no attempt to distance themselves from Foxconn or Gou’s remarks. Attempting to improve working conditions in the factory to a level equal with American working conditions would likely have a severe impact on the prices of new iPads, iPhones and other Apple electronics. The company would also make less money per unit sold which would ultimately impact shareholder confidence in the company.