Foxconn, the notorious manufacturer of Apple devices and parts, announced on Monday that it had closed one of its factories in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China due to early morning rioting. The company claimed that a fight between two workers quickly escalated into a riot which required police intervention. Fortunately, no fatalities were reported, although over 40 individuals were sent to nearby hospitals with serious injuries. The factory in question employs over 79,000 workers and is one of major manufacturing plants for the new iPhone 5 smartphone device from Apple.
Chinese forums are rumoring that the riot was initially sparked by an argument between one of the workers and a security guard. The security guard then proceeded to physically assault the worker based on the workers poor performance. The situation quickly escalated out of control as more workers came to the defense of their colleague. The brawl quickly became a riot and 5,000 armed police officers had to be called in to contain the situation.
What hits home about this news is that Taiyuan, Shanxi is my hometown. The place I remember fondly in my childhood years feels very different from what I’m reading now. It is harrowing to know that less fortunate teenagers and millennials, that were just like you or me, are working 10-12 hour days, doing repetitive mundane tasks and getting paid a few dollars a day. I fathom what my own life would be right now as a student in the city of Taiyuan, where the majority of my friends are working endless hours in a factory just to pay off their tuition debts.
In a recent article from the Shanghai Evening News, a reporter went undercover as a worker at the Taiyuan Foxconn factory. The article describes the undercover reporter going through a harrowing seven-day orientation, where he is shown the packed dirty rooms where he will be living, the massive communal dining halls where workers are shuffled in and out to eat and his basic job of assembling the back plate of the iPhone 5.
The reporter then goes on to work the night shift, which starts at midnight and goes on until 7 a.m. without a break — his job was to mark four points of the smartphone’s back plate with a oiled pen.
After a long night shift, the reporter wrote in the article:
By my own calculations, I have to mark five iPhone plates every minute, at least. For every 10 hours, I have to accomplish 3,000 iPhone 5 back plates. There are total 4 production lines in charge of this process, 12 workers in every line. Each line can produce 36,000 iPhone 5 back plates in half a day, this is scary ... I finally stopped working at 7 a.m. We were asked to gather again after work. The supervisor shout out loud in front of us: "Who wants to rest early at 5 a.m.!? We are all here to earn money! Let's work harder!" I was thinking who on earth wants to work two extra hours overtime for only mere 27 yuan (USD$4)!?
It is atrocious to think that our current Western standard of living is at the cost of the standard of living of kids who grew up with me back in China. While we endure the tough working conditions of air conditioning, ergonomic chairs and cubicles, the millenials of China are working in squalor. It's tough to imagine that everything we see around us wasn't just made by machines, but rather hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults just like us. And they've had enough.