On Tuesday night, near the end of the presidential debate, Candy Crowley asked the candidates about manufacturing competition with China:
iPad, the Macs, the iPhones, they are all manufactured in China, and one of the major reasons is labor is so much cheaper there. How do you convince a great American company to bring that manufacturing back here?
By chance, I watched that debate a few miles from where many of those iPads, Macs, and iPhones are made in southern China. The following day -- today, Thursday, China time -- I was inside the most famous of these outsourcing centers. This is the Foxconn "campus" in the Longhua area of Shenzhen, north of Hong Kong. Some 220,000 people work there; about a quarter of them live on site; and several thousand new employees are recruited, trained, and brought onto staff each week, because turnover at Foxconn and many of these Chinese manufacturing centers is so high. Foxconn has been controversial over the years because of allegations of sweatshop operation and of militaristic surveillance and discipline, plus a wave of worker suicides in 2010. I'll have more to say on the current state of Chinese manufacturing at Foxconn and elsewhere very soon, with a now-very-much-overdue article in the magazine.
I had been near the Foxconn campus several times in the past six years but never past the entry gate. Today I was able to spend much of a day there seeing assembly lines, dormitories, cafeterias, recreation areas, and other parts of the site. The only pre-condition that was set, and that I agreed to, was that I would not take any photos that revealed the logos of products Foxconn was making for its various customer companies around the world. It is common knowledge in the tech world that Foxconn is a major producer of Apple computers and devices, and that it also supplies products for HP, Dell, and other major international brands. (Consistent with my agreement, I won't mention whether I saw those or other specific brands being produced.)