APM Marketplace: China's iPhone workers face hard times

30 October 2009
China Labour Bulletin appears in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher and broadcaster.

The iPhone will soon go on sale in China, but what's life like for the people who manufacture the iPhone? Scott Tong reports.

29 October 2009.

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Stacey Vanek-Smith: iPhone in China? There's an app for that. Starting Friday, the Apple's iPhone will go on sale in the world's biggest handset market. But what's life like for people who make the iPhone? Marketplace's Scott Tong visited the factory city of Shenzhen, in Southern China, to find out.

Scott Tong: "Designed in California, assembled in China." Those words are etched on the back of your iPhone. And on the China side of that equation is a migrant worker, doing one task, over and over.

Thirty-something Mr. Liu injects hot plastic into molds all day. He makes the outer shells of the iPhone.

Mr. Liu: Each of us is like an ox. We never stop working. The factory is over 100 degrees. We go for 12 hours a day.

Apple doesn't own the plant; it pays a company called Foxconn to make its products.

The factory where Liu works holds 100,000 employees. Base pay here is 70 cents an hour [the legal minimum wage]. Though with overtime he can make twice that. Still, get out of line, and co-worker Wang says Foxconn docks your pay.

Wang: Foxconn punishes you for not finishing your food at the cafeteria. Waste it once, and get a warning. But if you do it twice, they fine you.

Foxconn denied this in writing. The company does provide that food for free, as well as free dormitories.

But Wang pays out of pocket to live off campus. He doesn't want to share a room with 30 other guys. And, he wants to eat whatever he wants. Fried rice at this street vendor goes for 80 cents a bowl.

But the biggest issue we heard from the workers is unfair compensation. Li Mingqi is in the industrial design department at the iPhone factory.

Li Mingqi: For instance, they stop paying overtime if you exceed 80 hours a week. No matter how much you work, they won't approve the extra pay.

Foxconn said this is "not true."

And for all the worker grievances, labor advocate Geoffrey Crothall says workers freely choose to do this, cause the money's good. Crothall is with the China Labour Bulletin.

Geoffrey Crothall: The reason they go to the cities to look for work is because life in the countryside is even worse.

And even if they quit, plenty more Chinese are willing to come and snap together an iPhone for that 70 cents an hour.

In Shenzhen, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

Staff researcher Cecilia Chen contributed to this report.

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