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

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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.

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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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