Apple supplier employee describes working conditions

As Foxconn continues to face criticism, CNN profiles a young factory worker who says she was promised benefits and little overtime. What she found when she got there was quite different.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
A worker at an Apple supplier facility in Chengdu, China.
A worker at an Apple supplier facility in Chengdu, China. Apple

Apple and Foxconn have both been on the hot seat over reports of the supplier's poor factory conditions. But a CNN interview with one of the factory workers brings a personal story to the controversy.

Working at a Foxconn factory in southwestern China, an 18-year-old student named Miss Chen (her name has been changed to protect her identity) told CNN about the conditions she faces each day.

The young girl was initially excited about an opportunity to work for one month at Foxconn, her head filled with visions of nice benefits and little overtime. But despite what she was promised, when she arrived there she learned that only senior workers get benefits and sick days. Instead, she has to put in overtime on a regular basis.

During her first day, an older worker advised her to leave Foxconn but Chen stayed on as she waited to return to school. The first three weeks consisted of her affixing more than 4,000 stickers onto iPad screens by hand, forcing her to work 60 hours each week on an assembly line.

"It's so boring, I can't bear it anymore," she told CNN. "Everyday is like: I get off from work and I go to bed. I get up in the morning, and I go to work. It is my daily routine and I almost feel like an animal."

Her hope now is to study hard in school to become a biologist so that she never has to return to Foxconn again.

Thought of primarily as an Apple supplier, Foxconn also builds products for Dell, HP, Microsoft, and other U.S. tech companies. Owned by Hon Hai Industries, the supplier has long been in the news over reportedly poor and restrictive factory conditions.

In 2010 a rash of worker suicides at the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, triggered concerns among Apple and other tech companies. Foxconn management attempted to downplay the incidents but in response set up nets to try to catch workers who attempted to jump. The company also said it would raise the pay of employees as financial incentive.

Last month a group of Foxconn workers threatened mass suicide over a pay dispute, an issue that was eventually settled.

But the working conditions at Foxconn and Apple's response to them continue to raise concerns, especially after a recent New York Times article highlighting the "human cost" of building popular products like the iPad.

Both Foxconn and Apple have conveyed similar messages of taking the situation seriously.

"Foxconn takes our responsibility to our employees very seriously and we work hard to give our 1.2 million employees in China a safe and positive working environment and compensation and benefits that are competitive with all of our industry peers in that location," the company said in a statement e-mailed to CNN.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also recently stressed his company's efforts to monitor the situation. In a letter to employees, Cook explained how Apple tries to inspect the factories, audit how the workers are treated, and educate the employees about their rights.

And some experts believe Foxconn's conditions are actually better than those found in other factories in China, according to CNN.

Still, for Chen, that information isn't likely to make her factory job any more savory. When asked by CNN why humans are doing machine-like work at Foxconn, she said simply that "humans are cheaper."