Nightline goes inside Apple's Chinese iFactory

Nightline goes inside Apple's Chinese iFactory

Nightline has aired their well publicized "exclusive look inside Apple's factory in China", which follows a month of media, environmental, and social scrutiny of the Chinese factory system. Apple allowed Nightline to film assembly of their products, which includes 141 steps to assemble an iPhone 4S, mostly by hand.

The assembly line workers were young; 17 or 18, with no one appearing to be over the age of 30. Working in 2 shifts, they can make 300,000 a day. An entire iPad takes 5 days and 325 pairs of hands, and they can churn out 10,000 an hour. One woman, a tired mother of 2, cleans 3,000 Apple logos every shift.

They get 2 one-hour meal breaks during a 12 hour shift, which they pay $0.70 for. If they eat fast, they can nap before their shift resumes. Dorm rooms are shared with 7 other workers. There's an internet cafe and soccer field where they play sports and practice Wushu (Chinese martial arts), and English and other classes. But Nighline makes it clear the workers are there to work, because opportunities outside Foxconn are fewer and pay even less.

Nightline implies that knowing how an iPhone or iPad 2 are made irrevocably alters your experience and enjoyment of the device -- the way knowing how a steak is made alters your experience and enjoyment of the meal. And that seeing Foxconn will make Apple customers "think different" about Apple. It's true that seeing things often has a greater impact than hearing or reading about them, and focusing and giving faces to individuals is more powerful than problems associated with faceless masses far away.

ABC did a good job divulging their connection to Apple -- they're owned by Disney, whose CEO sits on Apple's board, and whose single largest shareholder is the estate of Steve Jobs. They also point out that Foxconn works on projects for Intel, Nintendo, and Dell, among others.

We've shared some of our thoughts with you, both on the situation being a social, cultural, and developmental problem beyond Apple and on Apple's unique position and responsibility in the industry. Give Nightline's report a watch via the links below and let us know -- does it change how you feel about your Apple devices?

More: 5 min YouTube highlight, Full video (requires Flash, US only)

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 33 comments. Add yours.

johncblandii says:

It explains why the products are really well constructed. Doing it by hand cannot compare to machines pumping them out. I guess it also explains why they are so costly. :)
Still watching so I might have more comments later. :-D

johncblandii says:

Very good job by ABC. I think they did a great job of explaining the cultural differences and showing it isn't that bad over there. By US standards it is horrible but by their standard, it is one of the best jobs around [hence the flocking to get a job].
I am still overly impressed by the products being made by hand.

BoxOfSnoo says:

I only watched the highlights, but it looks like just another job. Apart from the dormitories, are burger joints or auto plants any different? Maybe they're all so young because they've just started their working careers... As they get older and perhaps save money maybe they move to better work?

johncblandii says:

That might be a cultural thing [young work].

Harko says:

Not exactly the same thing, but the next time you're on a cruise, ask some of the workers about their working/living conditions. There are some interesting parallels.

slalomskie says:

The workers on the cruise ships have to take back stair cases and walk ways so they don't interact with the passengers on their time off.....when they finally get any.

Harko says:

It's pretty easy to strike up a conversation when they show up to clean your cabin or when they are serving you a drink. They interact with passengers all the time and the stories they've told me have lots of similarities with what the Foxconn workers are going through (down to the tight fit of many employees in small "living quarters".

Lee J. says:

Although the working conditions might seem harsh to us, these workers have a better standard of living than others in that country. so you have to use there surroundings as a yardstick not our countries standard of living. They all looked to be well fed, well clothed, healthy, and more prosperious than others in their country.

mjs416 says:

I fail to see how the metrics in other countries shouldnt be used when describing the working conditions of a plant in China.
Thats like saying that Americans working at poverty levels make more money than people working in Zimbabwe so its really not that bad. Regardless - its still poverty.

Rob White says:

And so tell me again why Apple can't make products here? Just for fairness we'll include HP, Dell, Microsoft, Nike etc. Are we to believe that domestic workers can't assemble things by hand & be just as productive? Leaving out unions & onerous gov't regulation; is it all about profit margins & stock prices?
I choose to think my fellow American, Canadian, Mexican (insert country of your choice) is just as capable of manufacturing as a common Chinese worker.
How about this... Make iPhones, iPads, Macs destined for the Asian market in China. North America here. Europe there. Or would that be too expensive & mean fewer profits? The horror...

Noel Hibbard says:

Yes believe it or not corporations are in existence to make money. If they made iPhones over here the $599 price tag for an iPhone without contract probably wouldn't even cover the cost to make the phone. So are you willing to pay $1000 for a phone? I doubt it. Not saying I like the idea of them being made in China. Just saying the cost saving is incredible. The US would have to make some drastic changes to be able to compete with China. But then, are Americans even willing to live the lifestyle you see in this video? I know I am not.

Rob White says:

But don't Apple fans always say it's not about the cost? Seems a more expensive Apple toy wouldn't matter right? Try again.

Ferny says:

People will pay a certain premium for perceived value/quality improvement over a competing product, but there is a limit.
These products can't be made here because people don't want to work in factories. There are over 600k manufacturing jobs currently open with no applicants to fill them. People wonder what happened to the middle class without realizing that the majority of the middle class was blue collar manufacturing jobs. Low skill manufacturing won't be coming back anytime soon. Want a job? Spend 18 to 36 months at a tech school and you can get yourself a good middle income job in a factory and all the job security you can stand.

williamsbh76 says:

Not to mention that even if the products were made her in the US, Apple would not be the one doing it directly. It would be outsourced to a company that would probably do it by machine which still means few, if any jobs for American workers.

TumnusMr says:

This has been explained in several reports and I think the ABC preview of this also explained it and it isn't simply about money. Basically the supply chain in the US is gone, making it impractical to move manufacturing back here in volume. Foxconn doesn't make every component of the devices and there is a slew of other sub-contractors involved, all of which are in China or neighboring countries. And then there is all the raw materials for the components that are also largely only mined in China as well now. China also has flexibility in being able to hire a lot of extra workers for sudden demand (like an iPad or iPhone release). It would cost a lot more than a few billion dollars to get the entire supply chain up and running again in the US and shipping times and other logistics for individual components and materials would make it impossible to respond quickly to changes in demand if only part of the process came back to the US.
And if manufacturing did move back here, since most of the devices are sold to western countries, even if as you said the devices sold in Asia could be made in Asia, it would still mean laying off hundreds of thousands of workers at Foxconn. I doubt they would be better off under that scheme.

Winski says:

This report highlighted better than most how myopic and understanding-challenged most Americans are today - ABOUT ANYTHING outside the boarders... Even the reporter looked and sounded clue free.
AWFUL.

Gage says:

Still don't feel this is an Apple issue, it's a Foxconn issue and beyond that it's a China issue. If the workers want better conditions then they have to make the companies change, if you have to change the government to do that, then do it! I understand one 'crew' can't stand up, they'll just get fired, but if the whole work force of China stands up, they will listen. They never have and won't ever change because they are to scared. So it's on us to feel bad about it and try to make the change for them.

GraysonIP says:

Your comment is concerningly simplistic. It's not so easy to just stand up against the Chinese government. By way of comparison, current events in Syria reflect the life threatening challenges associated with regime change. Human empathy may be merited here.

Ferny says:

You don't get fired in China. If you're lucky, you only go to jail. The more likely outcome for agitators is a bullet.

Martin says:

http://sumofus.org/campaigns/apple-message/?sub=taf
The letter below was written by Guo Rui-Qiang and Jia Jing-Chuan, and translated from Chinese for SumOfUs members. They worked in an Apple factory in Suzhou, China cleaning iPhone touch screens until their nerves were permanently damaged by chemicals used during cleaning.
Dear SumOfUs Members and Friends -
You don’t know us but you have seen our work. Until recently, we worked long hours assembling Apple’s iPhone touch screens in Suzhou, China.
In early 2010, it was independently confirmed that 137 workers, including us, were poisoned by a chemical called n-hexane which was used to clean iPhone screens. N-hexane is known to cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, and leads to persistant nerve damage. Apple admitted to gross labour rights violations more than a year later.
If more people know about what we went through, Apple will feel pressured to change so other workers don’t have to suffer like we did.
We have been pressuring Apple, and its new CEO Tim Cook, for years to compensate those of us who were injured working for them, and demanding reform of working conditions at their Chinese factories so that their workers don’t suffer like we do. Now we need your help as customers or potential customers of Apple.
We need your help to send a message to Apple the day before their shareholder meeting. We want to see a strict corporate social responsibility and reform of the audit system to prevent similar tragedies in the future. He will listen to you as current or potential consumers.
Nearly 84,000 people have signed the petition so far — for that, we thank you! We believe it’d be symbolically powerful if 100,000 people signed the petition before SumOfUs delivers it to Tim Cook on Thursday at their shareholder meeting. We’re really close to that goal, but we need you to share our request with your friends to get over the edge.
It has been over two years since many of us were hospitalized and treated but our debilitating symptoms continue. Rui-Qiang still can’t find work because he can no longer stand for the long hours most jobs require. Jing-Chuan has to spend nearly $100 a month on health supplements.
But with all of us working together to pressure Apple to change, we can make sure what happened to us doesn’t happen to others too.

  • Gou Rui-qiang and Jia Jing-chuan
Martin says:

And for those apologists who make the "there's no alternative" argument, please go here:
http://www.thenation.com/print/article/164072/perfect-factory-possible
A socially responsible CEO and company helping to lead the charge against sweatshops--what a concept?! Who knew?! Paging, Tim Cook.....

Rob White says:

So even after I throw a very large carrot at the Apple apologists here, many of which I fittingly believe consider themselves among the 99% that big business & Wall Street have irreparably harmed, still defend big businesses since they are a fan of the product being made.
How would that famous pro labor, big gov't, social engineering guy Stevo Jobs view you folks? Oh wait I think we know.
Stevie P Jobs: "They don't know what they want until we tell them."
I guess that sums you up. Enjoy

Ferny says:

Boo hoo. Don't like it? Don't buy it. That's the only change that works.

Rob White says:

Spoken like a true Communist. I like the way you callously excused that 'People don't want to work here' above. Funny how the biggest defenders of big business & their practices, even when they are as two faced as Apple, resort to same taking point. It's always the workers fault isn't it? Shame.

jessedholm says:

I watched nightlife last night. It didn't change how I feel about my apple devices. I LOOOOOOVE them even more knowing they are all handmade. On a COMPLETELY unrelated note, I do think the people in China need to change the government over there. Then maybe they would have a teeny bit more power.

Ferny says:

Government changes the people, they don't change the government. Welcome to Communism.

FlopTech says:

He said it. "Foxconn's suicide rate is lower than the Chinese average."
Boom.

Martin Kristensen says:

Martin & Rob: You need to get yer heads out of a certain part of yer anatomy! Regardless of which facts are being laid out for you, you're unwilling to reflect or be nuanced in your point of view. You've already made up your mind, so why keep debating this? You're not listening to anybody but yourself. You're no better than any narrowminded fundamentalist anywhere on the planet. Yes, we get your point! Some of us don't agree with you, some do... Now.. move along, and instead spend your time saving these people who are being treated so horribly by what you apparently perceive as the world's most irresponsible company... I really think you should go to China and start a huge rally/demo...Good luck, mates :) I'm tired of reading you posts...It's like a never ending loop of the same BS

Martin says:

Ummm....why? Because it makes a difference. To wit: muckrakers and activists just got the workers a raise, not to mention Tim Cook's attention. Even just one iMore reader who learns something makes it worth the effort. Any other questions?!
"If you don't like it, don't buy it."
If you don't like the posts, don't read them.

Martin Kristensen says:

jaysus...I rest my case...Yer example is as dumb as the rest of yer posts...(how can I know if I like yer posts or not, if I don't read them ???!!!)

iDaniel says:

Aren't jobs repetitive all the time? I do the same thing almost every day, at a college work position that pays minimum wage. I know I am not going to do this my whole life, you have to start somewhere.

Aaron says:

Is that an ipad 3 in the last 30 seconds? It definitely isnt ipad 1 because of the camera and looks thicker than ipad 2

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