Like other exporting companies, Foxconn’s basic monthly wage of 950 yuan ($US140) is in line with Shenzhen’s official minimum wage. Employees must work hours of overtime each day to make about 2,000 yuan to meet basic needs. Their harsh experiences go well beyond low wages. Foxconn recruits must undergo a course of “military training” to prepare them for the company’s industrial discipline.
Foxconn’s military-style regime, which is typical of export factories in China, requires workers to live in dormitories with up to 10 people a room. A single dormitory houses 5,000 workers, and there are many dozens of them. Workers are only allowed to enter their own rooms with electronic badges and are not allowed to cook, or have visitors or sexual relations. The dorms have no air conditioning in order to pressure workers to do extra overtime during the summer, as there is air conditioning on the factory floor.
On production lines there are restrictions on how often workers may go to the toilet. They are under multiple security surveillance and can barely communicate with each other. During shift changes, they are often organised in “platoons” for briefings, much like soldiers.
The resulting psychological impact can be seen in the comments of a Foxconn mobile phone assembly-line worker who told Bloomberg after his 12-hour overnight shift: “Life is meaningless.” He said workers were yelled at constantly. Another college-educated worker in the product development department complained: “I do the same thing every day; I feel empty inside. I have no future.” (John Chan, 3 June 2010)Hardly surprising that ten workers at the factory have committed suicide this year!
But before those of us who have resisted the ‘Apple experience’ begin to feel superior, this factory also produces items for firms like Dell, HP and Sony. The real cost of our dependence on consumer electronics? Complicity in a system that imposes the inhuman and degrading conditions described above upon our fellow human beings.