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iPad Awe – $2/hr 60hr+ Workweeks & Suicide Nets

February 22, 2012

Here’s a follow-up to a post last month about the actual figures behind US production outsourcing which are surprisingly low.

As we pointed out, and most are painfully aware, there are entire sectors of the US economy that have hollowed out and headed to China– consumer electronics being chief among them.  Earlier this week ABC broadcast their China iPad factory tour expose. Click the video below to see the working conditions, the suicide nets, and see the throngs  of people lining up outside to get a job.  Also meet an assembly line worker who shaves aluminum filings, only gets to see her children once a month,  and uses an iPad for the very first time.


Apple‘s behind-the-scenes Foxconn factory tour for ABC’s Nightline has aired, leaving the company’s fans and critics arguing over whether the “privileged” access unlocked any secrets or alleviated concerns over labor treatment. Many of the more astonishing figures surround the production processes for Apple’s most coveted devices, the iPad and iPhone, which are for the most part built by hand by an ever-growing team of Foxconn workers. An iPhone, for instance, takes 141 construction steps, and there is huge demand for positions at the factory.

Worker conditions, meanwhile, also came under scrutiny. The average wage is $1.78 per hour, and employees pay the equivalent of $17.50 per month to stay in a communal dorm sleeping 6-8, The Verge observes. Meals are not included, and cost around $0.70 for each sitting. The workers get two one-hour breaks for food, and often nap during the time not spent eating.

Most eye-catching, of course, are the suicide prevention nets that Foxconn strung up in mid-2010 after a spate of employees jumping from factory roofs. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) inspections Apple requested will be paid for by the Cupertino company itself, on top of the $250,000 it paid to join the FLAin the first place. Interestingly, Foxconn exec Louis Woo claimed the company would have no problems if Apple demanded they double worker salaries, though the manufacturer has already recently increased pay.

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I have been to China many times over the past 15 years and seen these horrid conditions (the Foxconn plant looks like a palace compared to what I have seen!)  first hand.  The question is, if you are a New Market Entrepreneur looking for every edge to succeed in bringing your idea to market, do you apply your cultural norms to the conditions in China and turn away?  (BTW, the stark cultural differences are described in this NYT article which has rekindled the whole China labor exploitation debate).  Or do you take advantage of a culture that is different from our own.  Or is there a different way to evaluate the situation?

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