iPad Factory in the Firing Line
Worker Suicides Have Electronics Maker Uneasy in China
By Wieland Wagner
A series of apparent suicides has shaken the management of Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer that builds parts and assembles products for many Silicon Valley firms. Hundreds of thousands of people live and work at a Foxconn factory complex in southern China, in what critics say are sweat-shop conditions.
It's shortly after seven in the morning, a half-hour before the morning shift. Young Chinese workers file past gray-uniformed guards, pressing their corporate IDs on the electronic gates and waiting for the green light. Then they hurry through the labyrinth of the gray factory halls and workers' dorms.
Around 300,000 people work here, in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, outside Hong Kong, on a gigantic factory complex belonging to the Taiwanese firm Foxconn. Another 120,000 people work at a smaller complex several streets away. They build cult products for global digital brands like Apple, Nintendo and Dell, ranging from the iPhone and iPad to the Notebook. Many sacrifice their health; others, even their lives.
Ma Xiangqian, 18, was part of this peculiar Foxconn world, where everything is numbered: buildings, machines, component parts, finished products and, of course, people. For wages of up to 1,940 yuan per month (€230, or $285), the young man from Henan province spent his 12-hour shifts shoving plastic pieces into a machine that formed casings for Apple computers. Then he went home to sleep with nine colleagues in a room of one of the many dormitory blocks on the factory complex. more