Reports, rumors and fabrications about appalling labor violations at Foxconn factories in China left Apple enthusiasts thoughtful and confused when they purchased their new iPad on March.16.
But extensive coverage on the issue from American Public Media's Shanghai bureau chief Rob Schmitz, has painted a clearer picture of working conditions at Foxconn for the rest of the world.
Schmitz, who first helped uncover some of the fabrications about Foxconn in Mike Daisey's one-man-show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, has now published his own account of the working conditions at Foxconn's Longhuas Factory in Shenzhen, China.
In an exclusive video showing the process of iPad assembly in one of the factories, Schmitz reveals that conditions are not as bad as they have been reported.[ Scroll down to view video]
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He details the rough and hard working conditions, while relaying some of the complaints from workers who say they don't get paid overtime and are made to work when they are sick.
One of the most common complaints I heard: being treated unfairly by immediate supervisors. Some workers complained about being forced to work even though they were sick. Others said their supervisors didn't let them bill the overtime they had actually worked. From dozens of interviews, favoritism seems common among Foxconn supervisors, Schmitz said.
But he also highlights that there is a campus-like lifestyle, where workers are offered access to grocery stores, cafes and sports facilities.
In the video, the process of assembling an iPad looks tedious, but none of the footage comes close to depicting the dire conditions described by Mike Daisey in his monologue.
Schmitz was of course not allowed to roam through the factory alone, but he did obtain some first-hand information about workers conditions and details of a series of suicides that had taken place at the factory.
While employees complained about the long hours, they were dismissive when Schmitz quoted some of reports from American media coverage. Many workers laughed, telling me it's not really that bad, Schmitz said.
The New York Times found harsh and dangerous conditions workers were subjected to on a daily basis in iPad factories in a January investigative report. But in March, as the new iPad went on sale, some of the accusations of labor violations leveled against Apple by actor Mike Daisey, in an episode of the This American Life program on American Public Radio, have been shown to be false.
The show's producers retracted the episode, saying the story was partially fabricated. The story gained widespread popularity when an excerpt of Daisey's show aired on This American Life.
When I saw Mike Daisey perform this story on stage, when I left the theater I had a lot of questions. I mean, he's not a reporter, and I wondered, did he get it right? said Ira Glass, executive producer and host of This American Life. At that point, we should've killed the story, but other things Daisey told us about Apple's operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake.
After a rigorous fact-checking process, the show found that some of the fabrications in Daisey's monologue were small: the number of factories Daisey visited in China and the number of workers he spoke with. Others were a lot larger, with claims that he met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane.
This American Life ran a few interviews with Daisey after the show was retracted, who stood by his story.
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by the New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out, he said.
New York Times Report
During an investigation The New York times discovered that Foxconn's environment posed serious health and safety issues.
Two years ago, 137 workers were injured after using a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens, the Times reported. Some would work excessive overtime, enduring physical punishments for not keeping up the pace; while others would be made to stand for so long their legs would swell, making them unable to walk.
If Apple was warned and didn't act, that's reprehensible, Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, told the Times. But what's morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.
What do you think of the U.S Media coverage on conditions at Foxconn? Let us know in the comments box below.