After helping This American Life sift through the monologue of performer Mike Daisey, NPR Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz got his own look at the Shenzhen plant of Apple supplier Foxconn in southern China.
Schmitz reports that 99 percent of the nearly quarter-million workers at the factory are migrant workers who are earning money for workers back home. Workers, on average, are 18 t0 25 years old.
Following the assembly of the iPad through several production lines, Schmitz shows viewers how workers help to assemble and test the iPad’s motherboard, frame and screen.
Workers rotate their jobs every few days, he said, and make around $14 per day when they start. Their salary doubles after a couple of years, he said.
In a separate report, however, Schmitz notes that many of the workers don’t feel comfortable asking their supervisors for time off or other special requests because they’re worried about repercussions.
One pregnant woman, named Xiong Yefei, told Schmitz that she is worried about what the alcohol fumes in the factory will do to her baby, since the smell makes her feel sick.
“A supervisor told me the fumes wouldn’t harm the baby, but I’d still like to be transferred to another part of the line,” she told Schmitz. “When I asked my supervisors, they said no. And now they’re making me work the night shift.”
After Schmitz asks an executive about the worker’s situation, Xiong says that she’s worried she’ll get in trouble.
This behavior is in line with what the Fair Labor Association noted in its audits of Foxconn factories. The FLA said that workers often feel as if they don’t have a say in how they are treated and can’t communicate with their supervisors.
Other workers have complaints about the job itself, which is undeniably monotonous. There is high turnover at the factories, because the work is simply not that interesting. Schmitz does make a point of saying that, despite these flaws, Foxconn has a fairly good reputation among Chinese workers because it pays its workers on time and builds exercise and other facilities for them.
Hundreds of workers still line up daily to apply for work at the factory. Some manufacturers in China have begun building plants closer to the country’s interior to be closer to the main source of labor.