Foxconn, the giant Chinese manufacturer of iPhones has been in the news lately, most recently in yesterday’s Times piece on how they were able to respond quickly to retool to make glass-fronted iPhones:
In mid-2007, after a month of experimentation, Apple’s engineers finally perfected a method for cutting strengthened glass so it could be used in the iPhone’s screen. The first truckloads of cut glass arrived at Foxconn City in the dead of night, according to the former Apple executive. That’s when managers woke thousands of workers, who crawled into their uniforms — white and black shirts for men, red for women — and quickly lined up to assemble, by hand, the phones. Within three months, Apple had sold one million iPhones. Since then, Foxconn has assembled over 200 million more.
The point of the article is that Apple just couldn’t get that done in the US, and if you read the muted Times’ description of Foxconn, or, better yet, listen to Mike Daisey’s eyewitness account of visiting Chinese factories, it’s easy to understand why. Those workers live in dorms which house 13-15 people in bunks in 12 by 12 rooms. They officially work 12 hour days, but often work for up to 16 hours a day, for a little more than Chinese minimum wage (about $1.30/hour if my math is right). Turnover at the plants is estimated at 10-20% per month. And their leader has this attitude:
According to WantChinaTimes, Terry Gou, the head of Hon Hai (Foxconn), the largest contract manufacturer in the world, had this to say at a recent meeting with his senior managers:
“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,” said Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou at a recent year-end party, adding that he wants to learn from Chin Shih-chien, director of Taipei Zoo, regarding how animals should be managed.
There’s nothing new and sophisticated about the way that digital devices are assembled. It’s just brute manual labor of the most repetitive and mind-numbing sort, done by underpaid workers who have to threaten mass suicide to get any changes in their working conditions.