Undercover Chinese reporter exposes Foxconn working conditions (update: full English translation)

Some time in April, Chinese news site Southern Weekend sent its intern, Liu Zhiyi, on a 28-day undercover mission at Foxconn's Shenzhen factory, as part of an investigation on what could've led to this year's numerous suicides in one of China's largest factories. While the report doesn't comment on the company's management and support networks (or the lack of) for front-line workers, it appears that the real problem lies in Chinese workers' definition of a "good factory" -- one that pays more by means of offering overtime hours. It's clear what's causing this perception -- there's the sub-standard minimum wage in Shenzhen, and then there are the companies abusing this fact to lure workers with overtime hours above the legal limit.

Thanks to Southern Weekend's exclusive permission, we've now published the full human translation of the Chinese report.

As the reporter found out, under such environment that keeps ticking throughout the night, stress quietly builds up inside you. Any illness -- be it physical or mental -- accumulated from over-working would simply worsen at a higher rate. Want to talk to a friend about it? Not so easy for newcomers, as it turns out many of the workers didn't actually know the names of their roommates -- we assume this is partly due to the different dialects and shifts, and partly due to the lack of room welcoming for newbies. It's far from the boarding schools that you know of in the West, and needless to say, it can be super tough for first-time migrants.

Since this article came to light, we've also seen reports saying Foxconn has now set up support lines, stress relief rooms, counseling classes, and ¥200 ($29) rewards for reporting a colleague's mood disorder. Will these help at all? Sure, but not with ridding the root of the problem -- experts say that taking CPI into consideration, modern factory workers are being paid way less than the first generation Chinese migrant workers in the 80s. We can't help but to think that Foxconn's $565m net profit in Q1 2010 can somewhat rectify this, and we urge its clients -- Apple, Dell, HP, Sony, Amazon, etc. -- to look into this matter once again.

Below are some highlights from the report:

"Foxconn only recruits people around the age of 20. In comparison, being just under 23 years old, I was quickly brought into Foxconn."

"Their most sumptuous day is the 10th each month -- pay day. That day, all the ATMs and themed restaurants are packed with long lines, and consequently the ATMs are often drawn empty. The salary's made up of the ¥900 ($132) local minimum wage and the variable overtime pay."

"Each employee would sign a 'voluntary overtime affidavit,' in order to waive the 36-hour legal limit on your monthly overtime hours. This isn't a bad thing, though, as many workers think that only factories that offer more overtime are 'good factories,' because 'without overtime, you can hardly make a living.'"

"When talking about their colleagues' suicidal jumps, there was often a surprisingly calm reaction, and sometimes even a banter would be made about it, as if they were all outsiders."

"If you ask the workers what their dream is, you'll often get the same answer: start a business, make money, get rich, and then you can do whatever you want. In the warehouse, they humorously name their hydraulic trolleys 'BMWs.' They, of course, would rather own actual BMWs, or at least 'BMW' kind of wealth."

"The employees work, walk and eat at this [factory machineries'] beat, so no wonder I was walking so fast, eating so quickly without anyone hurrying me, even though it didn't feel good. You're like a component that's entered the assembly line, just following the rhythm, belonging to that heartbeat at 4am, no way to escape."

"This super factory that holds some 400,000 people isn't the 'sweatshop' that most would imagine. It provides accommodation that reaches the scale of a medium-sized town, all smooth and orderly."