Manufacturer Foxconn has again come in for criticism after an undercover reporter described dire working conditions in one Chinese facility, with the OEM promising an immediate investigation into the claims. The report by the Shanghai Evening Post (translated by M.I.C. Gadget) revealed unhygienic dormitories, poorly maintained leisure facilities, and frantic overtime as Foxconn pushed to produce sufficient iPhone 5 units to meet expected demand, with workers subjected to strict punishments for dropping the pace.
The undercover reporter was apparently put to work on the part of the Tai Yuan plant producing iPhone 5 back panels, applying masking tape and plastic stoppers to sections of the plate - such as the earphone jack - which are not to be painted. He calculates that he must mark five iPhone plates every minute in order to keep up with the production line:
"I have to pickup the back-plate and marked [sic] 4 position points using the oil-based paint pen and put it back on the running belt swiftly within 3 seconds with no errors. After such repeat action for several hours, I have terrible neckache and muscle pain on my arm. A new worker who sat opposite of me gone [sic] exhausted and laid down for a short while. The supervisor has noticed him and punished him by asking him to stand at one corner for 10 minutes like the old school days" Wang Yu, Shanghai Evening Post
Meanwhile, Foxconn's on-site accommodations also come in for criticism, with dormitories unclean and other facilities, such as the games center and theater, said to be in a poor state of repair.
"The first night sleeping at Foxconn dormitory is a nightmare. The whole dormitory smells like garbage when I walked in. It’s a mixed of overnight garbage smell plus dirty sweat and foam smell. Outside every room was fully piled up with uncleared trash. When I opened my wardrobe, lots of cockroaches crawl out from inside and the bedsheets that are being distributed to every new workers are full of dirts and ashes" Wang Yu, Shanghai Evening Post
Unsurprisingly, Foxconn has reacted quickly to the public criticisms, promising an internal investigation and swift rectification of any problems uncovered. In a statement provided to The Next Web, it conceded that it "is not perfect" but insists that it is "making progress everyday":
"Foxconn takes our responsibility to our employees very seriously and we work hard to give our over one million employees in China a safe and positive working environment and compensation and benefits that significantly exceed government-mandated rates and that are competitive with all of our industry peers in each location where we operate. We also work hard together with the local government and third parties to provide housing, dining, recreational and other facilities that meet the needs of our employees and we are committed to a process of continuous improvement in those and other benefits.
We do this to ensure that we continue to attract the best workers in the industry. Foxconn is not perfect, but we are making progress everyday and we continue to lead our industry in meeting the needs of the new generation of workers in China. Anything, such as the report in question, that indicates that the high standards set by our company are not being followed is immediately investigated and addressed."
Apple is yet to comment on the report, which of course comes shortly ahead of the launch of the iPhone 5 itself. The company has taken a strict line on worker conditions, co-investing significant amounts into new production facilities with Foxconn, and inviting inspections from the Fair Labor Association which gave the manufacturer a clean bill of health.
Not all of the bad press in recent months has been accurate, either. This American Life was forced to retract a controversial "exposé" of poor working conditions at Foxconn, after it was revealed that its creator had blended no small amount of fiction with the facts, making up interviews and fabricating other details.