Cheap disposable labor is an essential part of too many lucrative businesses, and it’s currently an integral part of Amazon’s business model. For The Guardian, Gethin Chamberlain examines the enormous physical and psychological toll that Kindle and speaker production takes on low-wage Chinese workers.
In the Foxconn factory in the city of Hengyang, Amazon and Foxconn can pay their temporary workers a minimum wage that’s lower than in other Chinese cities. Factory supervisors make workers ask for permission to use the toilet. But when they pay workers their standard $2 hourly rate for overtime, the factory is clearly violating Chinese labor law. The good news is that US-based labor rights investigator China Labor Watch sent an undercover agent inside the factory to document conditions. While this undercover worker cleaned dust from 1,400 Echo Dot speakers with a toothbrush in one day, she made careful observations about life inside Amazon’s factory, and CLW used her findings to try to pressure Amazon to improve conditions.
Another worker tells her she, too, is suffering: “While working at the same work position and doing the same motions over and over again each day, she felt exhausted and her back was sore and her neck, back and arms could barely take it any more.”
Alexa’s diary makes no happier reading the following day. A woman of about 45 tells her how she has been scolded because she is not fast enough: “It might be because she was getting older so her speed was slower and her reactions were slower. When the line leader was telling her off, she started crying. After I returned to the dorm, an older woman … said that last time the line leader told her off, she also cried.”
She describes long nights of repetitive and relentless work, with fellow workers close to falling asleep on their feet. During a break about midnight she sees that “many people were resting on the assembly line and sleeping, while others had pushed together some chairs and were sleeping on those. Some had even stacked together some foam boards and slept on top of them.”