Details From ABC Nightline’s ‘iFactory: Inside Apple’ Special on Foxconn [Update]


Update 1: A report from AppleInsider claims underage workers were ‘hidden’ in anticipation of the FLA audit.

Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) project officer Debby Sze Wan Chan relayed the claims in a recent interview withAppleInsider. SACOM is a Hong Kong-based NGO that was formed in 2005 and has been researching labor rights violations in the electronics industry since 2007.

Chan said she had heard from two Foxconn workers in Zhenghou last week that the manufacturer was “prepared for the inspection” by the Fair Labor Association that had been commissioned by Apple and began last week.

“All underage workers, between 16-17 years old, were not assigned any overtime work and some of them were even sent to other departments,” Chan reported the workers as having said.


Bill Weir in a ‘bunny suit’ going through an air shower

Bill Weir from ABC was able to go inside Foxconn factories in China and give a first hand account of what goes on there. At the beginning of the ABC Nightline special ‘iFactory: Inside Apple’, he made clear about ABC and Disney’s relationship with Apple. He only agreed to report ‘exactly what I saw’. Here are some quick show notes from the episode (spoiler alert!):

  • Bill had to wear a full suit and go through air showers to eliminate dust before entering assembly lines
  • Noticed a lot of the employees were young; 17 and 18 year olds but not the ‘teens’ we heard about before in unconfirmed reports
  • 300,000 iPhone camera modules can be made in just two work shifts in a day
  • Chunks of aluminum can be formed into an iPad shell at the rate of 10,000/hour
  • Workers endure 12 hour shifts; 2 hour meal breaks; 70 cents for rice and sides; many take post meal naps
  • Suicide nets were put up in Spring of 2010 after 9 worker suicides; Tim Cook flew to Shenzhen and helped implement the nets and setup a counselling centre; there was a Foxconn promise of wage increases
  • Reasons for suicide? Hints of the ‘new’ generation of migrant workers finding it difficult to adjust to life in factories; management issues; isolation from lack of friends
  • The Fair Labor Association happened to be at Foxconn to perform their audits when Bill had arrived. Auret Van Heerden from the FLA noted most factories would be ‘putting on a show’ during these audits, but he would look for reactions from employees to see if they would be curious about his presence
  • The FLA used iPads to beam questionnaire info taken by Foxconn workers directly to servers in New Zealand
  • Bill sees 3000 people hired in one day; new employees receive 3 days of training; it costs $17.50/month to rent a dorm to live with 7 people; $1.75/hour wage at Foxconn
  • Apple paid $250,000 to join the FLA and is also paying for the audit
  • Worker complaints: crowded dorms, expensive food, low wages
  • The full FLA audit will be released in a few weeks
This is what your iPhone looks like from the assembly line

The special was only 30 minutes long, and did provide a fascinating glimpse inside Apple’s production line at Foxconn that has never been seen before. From what we were shown Bill was able to have unfettered access to employees, asking those on assembly lines various questions with a translator in tow. He even visited a Chengdu village to see the typical home of a migrant worker from the countryside.

The special was interesting to watch, and of course Bill did not witness any ‘violations’ at Foxconn during his visit, but he made it clear to watch for the full FLA report set to be published in a few weeks. Did you watch the special? What did you think?

Below is a short clip (Flash) that details a preview of tonight’s episode:

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  • WhatThe

    $1.75 an hour?   WTF?  That’s sweat-shop slave labor wages.  No wonder they are suicidal.  Meanwhile Apple is making a killing, and the execs are making billions.  Evil corporate greed at it’s finest.

  • Inquirer002

    Sure a  buck seventy-five is not a lot of money. But is it fair to think about what it buys in the U.S. Or should we think about what it buys in China and what the alternatives are for these 17 and 18 year olds. 

    What about pay in the factories that make our clothes and shoes in China? No one wants to f–k them up?

    My point is that the guy who originally when to China to do the investigative report oversold his point and is, guess what, making a fortune off this. Perhaps this will help Chinese workers but not as much as it helped him.

  • Thedigitalevil

    17.50/month to rent a dorm?  i pay over 1000!  /Jealous  /EndSarcasm

  • definingsound

    So clearly @WhatThe you would never buy anything from Wal-Mart, since everything there is made in China at lower wage rates than the FoxConn factory. Canada’s purchasing power parity has nothing to do with evilness, our single dollar buys $10 worth of goods/services in all but maybe the top 15 richest countries of the world. So if $1.75 is equivalent to $17.50, and if minimum wage is $5, then FoxConn is simply attracting the best talent with the highest wages in the region, offset by demanding shift work. That the exchange rate makes that wage seem low in your eyes, does not make anything evil.

  • Disgusted_Dennis

    I love how the apple fanboi’s turn a blind eye to the injustice in the world especially as it relates to Apple. Instead they deflect, “well what about Walmart!” hahahahah So Hitler should have said to the west “well, what about Attila the Hun!, look what he was able to get away with!” …..Greed, greed greed!

  • Anonymous

    Let’s compare this to how much the average wage is in China. How about we take a look the wages of Foxconn relative to wages offered by other employers. I’m sure Foxconn is paying a heck of a lot better than most jobs of this type in China. 

  • Ari

    I love how you comment without have a clue about economics. While their pay might not allow them to buy the electronics they are making, their purchasing power for “domestic” goods is much higher than you might think. The domestic purchasing power is generally measured by how much a loaf of bread or the equivalent local staple in that country costs compared with the minimum wage in a country.

    Brits complain about Apple product prices too and how they are higher but they don’t consider that they have to pay 20% vat and that their country has Tariffs protecting their own electronics manufacturing industry. But if you look at the price of the bread in the UK and compare that with the minimum wage then you see that they have more purchasing power for local goods than the average American even before taking into consideration the exchange rate.

    It is all about how many “loafs” of bread you can buy per day with your wages, not how much you can spend in another country. The Canadian dollar used to have lower purchasing power globally than it does now and yet the price of our local goods have not gone down and the wages have not decreased.

  • Definingsound

    Cool I just got a new trophy from Disqus: “Herr Fanboy” – “you have had your argument refuted with both comparisons to Nazi Germany, and mindless loyal consumerism”. Thanks @disgusted_dennis – our discussion grows more insightful, only with your input.

    In all seriousness it is unfortunate that Apple is actually a leader in terms of workers rights and compensation in the third world.

  • Anonymous

    With high unemployment rate in china, they should be thankful to have a job.

  • Anonymous

     Do Chinese care about how much a loaf of bread cost?
    No, not really.

    They only care about how much a catty of rice cost!

  • WhatThe

    There is something horribly wrong when 18 people commit suicide, and they have to erect ‘suicide nets’.  You consider 16-17 y/o kids the best talent?  What part of this brain-dead assembly line work requires talent?  ROLF!  We all know they are considered nothing more than young, cheap and expendable slave labor.