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A Look Inside Apple's iPhone Factory In China | How does Foxconn China work

Recently it emerged that Apple, the most valuable company in the world and supposedly an icon of squeaky clean progressive values brushed aside allegations of child labour within its key Chinese supply chain. The suggestion is that a big Apple supplier named Sooyin electronics employed workers as young as 14 in the interest of keeping up with the ferocious appetite for Apple goods in the west. Apple chided Sooyin, but maintained ties for months and even years afterwards. With new allegations like this and a spate of suicides associated with the brand's manufacturing base over the years, We thought it was time we put on our lanyards and take a peek inside an iphone factory in China.

apple factory in china

The first and most important thing to understand is that Apple factories in China aren't technically Apple factories at all, instead the California tech giant subcontracts its manufacturing out to a firm called Harm High Precision Industry Co-limited which is much more popularly known as Foxconn technology group or simply Foxconn.

Foxconn was founded by colourful Taiwanese businessman Terry Goo who has been playfully dubbed the Donald Trump of Taiwan and is reportedly worth somewhere north of 5 billion US dollars. Foxconn is the biggest employer in China with some 1.3 million members of staff on the books in 2018. It manufactures consumer electronics for a variety of companies from Samsung to Dell to HP but is most famous for manufacturing Apple products and most notably the iphone fully.

Also Read: Apple Car Details, Release Dates, Features, Price and EveryUpdate about Apple Car

Half of all the world's iphones many hundreds of millions are manufactured at a sprawling Foxconn facility on the outskirts of Zhengzhou. Zhengzhou is a city of around nine and a half million people in Hunan province historically a poverty-stricken province of the People's Republic. Locals often refer to the Zhengzhou Foxconn plant as iphone city and that's a pretty fair description at peak times some 350000 staff work there most living in dormitories on site during the build up to a big new iphone release. The plant can produce as many as half a million units a day that's nearly 350 every minute!

Around the factory supporting businesses such as restaurants, massage parlors and shoe shops have sprung up to support the mammoth workforce inside the Zhengzhou factory which is dedicated to the final stage of iphone assembly. Some 400 discreet tasks are broken down and carried out by its army of workers. Most employees will perform one task repeatedly over and over again, day after day this could be as interesting as soldering or as dull as fitting a single screw into the back of the devices again and again and again.

So how do Foxconn recruit?

Back in 2017 a student at NYU called Dejian Zheng went undercover for six months at the Zhengzhou plant to investigate the labor situation. According to Zheng's report, all he had to do to get hired was join a queue of eager applicants outside the factory. Zheng was asked for his identification and retired to recite the English alphabet as it was in common use in the factory then he was in. Zheng worked on an assembly line with around 200 other recruits monotonously assembling many hundreds of devices per shift. He said the work was boring and tiring but didn't report any specific abuses across the gruelling six day week aside from a supervisor yelling every now and then. His main complaint was that the overtime was presented as voluntary but was very clearly mandatory on pain of being fired. It's been reported elsewhere that the Chinese government itself came to keep this lucrative business running smoothly steps in to help with a never-ending recruitment drive during peak summer months in the build-up to the traditional autumn iphone release date.

foxconn factory apple in china

A speaker is said to stand at the Zhengzhou factory gate yelling out for workers who are optimistic and diligent Hunan province even reportedly sets quotas for the numbers of workers that villages and cities should provide to keep the factory ticking over efficiently and effectively the gender balance on the factory floor is said to be roughly equal and the typical age of a factory worker is between 18 and 25 though interns are frequently as young as 16 and while underage workers have been found in Apple's supply chain, nearly a dozen fifteen-year-old children were discovered to be working across three factories according to one report. There are no reports that Foxconn's Zhengzhou facility was directly involved, worker conditions in Zhengzhou while not as brutal as sweatshops do seem extraordinary to western eyes.

Factory workers stay close by the plant in dorm buildings up to 12 stories high with eight workers sharing a room sometimes with only one bathroom per floor shared by as many as 200 people. US-based pressure group China labor watch discovered during undercover investigations that workers are actively forbidden from resigning their post during busy peak times but conceded that the most egregious allegations of brutality and bullying made by others have perhaps been overstated. One worker whose role was wiping special polish onto the LCD screens said she handled around 1700 iphones a day and that it was mundane work but also that there were worse things to endure in life than monotony however the grind of working six straight days only seeing family on Sunday if they happen to live locally clearly takes its toll.

Also Read: What happened to Iphone's Fingerprint Sensor? Whats the Future of Apple Touch ID?

The most common complaint about working at Foxconn in Zhengzhou is boredom, when NY student spent those six weeks on the production line, he said he quickly grew to hate it. Real workers speaking anonymously have claimed a high turnover of staff after a year people get bored or disinterested claimed one. When that happens they leave. Other Foxconn workers have said that while building iphones isn't exactly their childhood dream, the facility is no better or worse than other Chinese factories they'd worked at of course there is a much darker side to the allegations level to Apple although not directly related to the assembly plant in Zhengzhou; it has been reported that Apple products have been made using forced Uyghur labor an ethnic minority in China who endure horrific working conditions and even wage theft by unscrupulous overseers.

apple factory in china foxconn

According to the New York times lawmakers in the United States have proposed legislation designed to curb American companies ability to use forced weaker labor. Apple it is said set out to weaken the bill although Apple for its part says it did not lobby against the legislation but instead had as the company puts it constructive discussions with the relevant congressional staff and as for those Macbook makers at Sooyin electronics we mentioned at the start. When the issue came to light, Apple told the firm to address the issue or risk losing business but Apple otherwise continued to work with Sooyin for three years. Former members of the so-called supplier responsibility team at Apple told reporters from the information that the incident wasn't isolated and that profits sadly seem to have been the driving force between decision making. So

What does the future look like for Apple and its labor practices?

As living standards in China inevitably improve, so does the cost of labor and so the factories may well move elsewhere. Foxconn recently found itself in hot water for exaggerating its staffing requirements to Apple in order to illicitly cream profits from the Californian firm so it's not always a cosy relationship between the two giants most pertinently undercover student Zheng observed in 2017 that several stations on the production line where he worked were already taken up by robots known in-house as Foxbots a trend that will surely continue however its iphones are manufactured going forward into the future let's just hope Apple's working practices live up to the firm's lofty brand ideals and that latter day disciples of Steve Jobs can at least help someone somewhere get a good job.

Also Read: Now you can buy new Iphones-Ipads on Subscription basis!

What do you think, is Apple justified keeping suppliers at arm's length in order to keep costs competitive for the end user? Tell us your ideas in the comments and don't forget to share and keep visiting for more thought-provoking tech posts. Do check out our other post below as well.

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