How Things Have (and Haven't) Changed at Foxconn

After a mass suicide threat, media exposes from both This American Life and The New York Times and factory audits from Apple and the Fair Labor Association, Foxconn has had about six weeks to shape up.

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After a mass suicide threat, media exposes from both This American Life and The New York Times and factory audits from Apple and the Fair Labor Association, Foxconn has had about six weeks to shape up. Really, though, the Chinese manufacturer that American gadget corporations rely on has had about a year and a half to evolve, after mass suicides back in June 2010 brought similar American media attention to the firm. In that time, some things have changed, as evidenced by Bill Weir's tour through Foxconn with ABC News.

Things That Have Changed

  • Wages. Last week Foxconn raised worker salary's 16 to 25 percent, up to $285 a month, the third time the factory has upped salary's since 2010. 
  • Suicide. The campuses have implemented precautions, including suicide nets and a counseling center. "Everywhere you look, on every factory and dormitory, in every stairwell and atrium, are suicide nets," notes Weir. And the suicide rate 
  • Worker Satisfaction. "Compared with other factories, it's quite good here, because the benefits are good. And because a lot of things happened in the past, it's been improved a lot," Zhang Ruohua, who makes printer cartridges, told Weir.  
  • Unions. "We do have labor unions at Foxconn," a Foxconn executive told Weir.  
  • Audits. Both Apple and the Fair Labor Association have gone inside Foxconn since the latest reports. 
  • American Attitudes. We've seen outrage, guilt, and mixed feelings from our iProduct obsessed culture over the last few weeks. 

Things That Haven't Changed

  • Wages. Still aren't that great: "Starting salary is around $285 a month or $1.78 an hour," writes Weird. "And even with the maximum 80 hours of overtime a month, the Chinese government considers them too poor to withdraw any payroll taxes." 
  • Suicide. The precautions haven't entirely worked. "There are a few people scattered in the waiting area when I visit. A counselor tells me that these days they are more likely to deal with lost IDs than bouts of depression," Weir writes. "'So why did the horror happen?' I ask. 'There are many reasons,' she says. 'We had many scholars here doing research. Of course some (suicide) has to do with the management. But they had more to do with the new generation of migrant workers from the rural areas, their state of mind and how they cope with society. Also it's hard to make friends here.'"
  • Worker Satisfaction. Working at Foxconn still doesn't sound all that pleasant, with workers exceeding the 60-hour-a-week work limit and working 14 hour days. "We mostly found people who face their days through soul-crushing boredom and deep fatigue," writes Weir. "Some complained of being overworked, others complained of being underworked and almost all said they were underpaid." And, the living conditions don't make the more any more bearable, adds Ruohua. "The dorm conditions are not that good. The rooms are crowed and we don't have much space to hang our clothes, and the shower rooms are small," she told Weir. "And there is not much overtime. Many people come and go because there is not much overtime."
  • Unions. "But it's not a freely elected labor union yet," the Foxconn executive continued. "I expect to see that in the next year or two, they will become more like a collective bargaining union, and they will be freely elected."
  • Audits. Apple has been conducting these types of supplier audits since 2006.
  • American Attitudes. "When people read about bad Chinese factories in the paper, they might have a moment of outrage," write The New York Times' David Barboza and Charles Duhigg in an article detailing Foxconn's progress. "But then they go to Amazon and are as ruthless as ever about paying the lowest prices."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.