It’s been more than a decade since Foxconn made international headlines after several workers committed suicide at the manufacturer’s iPhone factory in Shenzhen, China, which prompted revelations about inhumane working conditions. Now Foxconn’s facility in Zhengzhou, which produces about half the world’s iPhones, is under the media microscope. Viola Zhou of Rest of World kept in close contact with a few Foxconn assembly-line workers over the course of three months to capture what life is like in the mega-factory during peak production:
In December, as Western holiday shoppers were preparing Christmas presents, Foxconn renewed efforts to rev up its iPhone 14 Pro production. To attract a new crop of workers, the company again raised its pay. One contract seen by Rest of World promised a monthly bonus of 6,000 yuan ($885) if recruits worked at least 26 full days in December and 23 days in January. On social media, people described the proposition as the “60-day Foxconn challenge.”
Hunter had planned to return home once his quarantine ended, but the bonus made him reconsider. Going through a routine he was well familiar with, he lined up at the factory’s recruitment office, had his blood taken as part of a mandatory health check, and carried his belongings into an eight-person dorm room. The next day, he completed a mental health questionnaire, which asked whether he had insomnia or relationship issues — a practice that dates back to the spate of suicides in 2010 — and spent eight hours watching orientation videos on his phone. A frequent pop-up asking for a facial scan made sure he was paying attention. After three more days of quarantine, he started his most recent role — working the screws on the iPhone 14 Pro assembly line.
Inside the workshop, Hunter said he felt a kind of oppression he had never experienced in his previous Foxconn jobs, which were away from the factory floor. With no windows, he said that it was impossible to tell day from night without checking a clock. Managers required such a high tempo that he felt he could not stop for a second. Hunter even witnessed one colleague getting his pay reduced for spending too long drinking water. The constant scolding was humiliating, he said, even though he was rarely the target. Colleagues broke into tears under the stress.