Nightline is going to be airing their big exposé on Foxconn tomorrow night, but the write-up of their visit to Foxconn is now available. Although Nightline reports that there are nets just about everywhere to catch anyone trying to commit suicide, depression is apparently not that common. The counseling center is sparsely used (most of the workers were simply tired from their 10-to-12-hour shifts), and despite the high profile of the suicides within recent memory, 18 attempts over the last couple of years actually isn't that many considering the Foxconn employs and houses a veritable city of over 230,000 within Shenzhen. A counselor at Foxconn explained why some of the suicides happened.
"There are many reasons. We had many scholars here doing research. Of course some (suicide) has to do with the management. But they had more to do with the new generation of migrant workers from the rural areas, their state of mind and how they cope with society. Also it's hard to make friends here."
Nightline also got to ask about Apple's independent audit of working conditions. The New Zealand firm in charge of it claims many of the responses are based on what the boss would want to hear, but since the sample size is so huge, and all of the surveying is done anonymously and online, there are many legitimate grievances which are being identified. As for factory inspections, the president of the Fair Labor Association, Auret van Heerden, says it's hard to get feel for what actual day-to-day conditions are like.
"I expect them to put on a show for us. That's normal with every factory you go to, even if it's just the time that it takes you to get from the gate to the factory floor, there's always fifteen or twenty minutes of protocol to get in there. The special equipment comes out, they put the ear plugs in, they put the masks on, and they can transform a factory in twenty minutes, so we expect that."
The saddest part of the whole piece is that the factory workers rarely, if ever, get to use the final products that they're all helping to build - nevermind own one. Considering one of the tenents of Ford's original assembly line was that they price their cars so that everyone who worked on the line could afford one, it's sad to see the biggest electronics factories in the world today don't follow in that spirit.
This tour is a particularly big deal because Apple has traditionally never allowed press inside the factories where iPhone, iPads, and other Apple products are assembled, but an ongoing rash of bad press related to Foxconn has prompted them to open up the doors, at least a little bit. Apple has got to be applauded for the unprecedented amount of effort they're putting into improving working conditions throughout their entire supply chain. One can only hope that other manufacturers start doing the same before the world starts to learn that it's not only iPhone factories that are harsh working environments.