Maybe Foxconn Isn't So Horrible After All

Since Mike Daisey's lies tarnished any perception we have of life on Apple's infamous Chinese factory line, Marketplace's Rob Schmitz has gone in to re-report and re-shape the image of the place where our iStuff gets made.

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Since Mike Daisey's lies tarnished any perception we have of life on Apple's infamous Chinese factory line, Marketplace's Rob Schmitz has gone in to re-report and re-shape the image of the place where our iStuff gets made. Schmitz's findings will appear in an American Public Media series called "The People Behind Your iPad," which started last week with some teaser interviews and posts and continued into this week with fuller reports. From Daisey's tales, which he made up based on stuff he'd read in the news or heard, Foxconn with its high suicide rate, mangled limbs and insanely long workdays, seemed like a horrific place of work. Once Daisey's stories came out as at least parly false, however, even the truths he revealed became suspect. Schimtz, who outed Daisey a few weeks ago, has gone in to reset the record. And, as expected, the image that emerges of the iFactory isn't the most horrible place to work ever, of all time. Then again, Foxconn's still a Chinese factory that underpays its massive workforce for hours of mind-numbing work.

The Good

Foxconn's facilities have lots of amenities, something we already knew a bit about from Nightline's Bill Weir, the other American reporter to gain access to Apple's production line. Upon first walking, in Schmitz is more impressed by all the stuff, which he later compares to an American college campus, than anything else, from a report last week:

There’s a main drag lined on both sides with fast-food restaurants, banks, cafes, grocery stores, a wedding photo shop, and an automated library. There are basketball courts, tennis courts, a gym, two enormous swimming pools, and a bright green astroturf soccer stadium smack-dab in the middle of campus. There’s a radio station -- Voice of Foxconn -- and a television news station. Longhua even has its own fire department, located right on main street. 

And though he does make note of all the suicide nets, an unpleasant reminder of what the work has driven some employees to do, he gives a more positive impression than Daisey had, quoting his guide Louis Woo, explaining that these nets save lives. "I look up at them and think of the people who jumped. I tell Louis how depressing they look, just suspended up there, waiting to catch someone," writes Schmitz. “I don’t care how they look,” Woo responds. "If we can save one life with these nets, they’re completely worth it."

The actual lines aren't as dingy as people have said, either. "However, a lot of the things that we've heard in the press -- that they sit on chairs that don't have backs to them or they're standing up -- that's not true," Shmitz explained to fellow Marketplace reporter Sarah Gardner in another report from last week. "At least at this factory, all the chairs had backs on them." In general, the lines look sleek and sophisticated, as this teaser video shows.

On a personal level, too, the employees don't sound as miserable as Daisey had "reported." Workers Schimtz talked to said life wasn't as bad as the American media makes it out to be. And he says the ones he spoke with outside the factory away from Foxconn's watchful eye, had a "generally positive attitude." And neither safety nor underage workers, something Daisey has emphasized via the 12 year-olds and deformed workers he "spoke with," were real problems. "Well, I've never seen an underage worker in here and I've never seen an explosion. I generally feel safe," another worker told Schmitz.

The Not So Good

Workers still don't get the treatment or respect American workers like to think they demand. The most common complaint, says Schmitz, was about mistreatment from supervisors and little empathy for sickness. Promised a raise a few months ago, Foxconn workers told Schmitz they still haven't gotten it. The migrant workers, who have come there to make money to send home, have complained that the wages aren't worth living in Shenzhen, a more developed and expensive city than China's rural areas. "So he's saying that he'll return to his home village soon," Schmitz explains to Marketplace's Rob Hobson, discussing one worker's dilemma. "He's realized that he can't save enough money living in a developed coastal city like Shenzhen -- the cost of living is just too high," he continues.

Not all the facilities are so wonderful. Those suicide nets struck Schmitz as depressing, and so did the factory buildings themselves, where workers spend most of their waking hours. "As you walk beyond the civic center of Longhua, the buildings begin to change. You find yourself walking through alleys surrounded by looming factory buildings. You stop, look up, and they’re everywhere: the nets," he writes.

And, at the end of the day, it's still boring factory work. “It’s incredibly boring and repetitive,” an iPad assembly line worker named Xu told Schmitz.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.