A graduate student at New York University worked undercover at Apple’s secretive iPhone factory near Shanghai, and gave a rare first-hand account of what goes on inside.
Dejian Zeng spoke with Business Insider about his time in Pegatron, an electronics manufacturer Apple has worked with since it diversified its supply chain in 2013. What he found echoes much of what has already been discovered: poor working conditions and low wages.
Zeng spend six weeks in the summer of 2016 working at Pegatron. His first job was in the assembly line putting together an iPhone 6S, a job much less exciting than it sounds. Each assembly station takes on one very specific task. For Zeng, that meant putting a single screw onto the iPhone’s housing.
“It’s like, that’s the work. I mean, it’s simple, but that’s the work that you do,” Zeng told Business Insider. “Over, over, over again. For whole days.”
The monotony of that task was compounded by the strict rules within the factory campus. Workers are not allowed to bring their phones onto the campus, listen to music, or sometimes even talk to each other. Things got even worse when the factory switched manufacturing from the 6S to the iPhone 7. One day of work consisted of sitting for 12 hours and only producing five devices. After Zeng left the factory, one of his coworkers told him he’d worked 11 days straight during the busy days following the iPhone 7 launch. Overtime, he explains, is not voluntary.
After a 7:30pm to 7:30am shift, Zeng made his way back to an eight-person dorm 10 minutes from the factory campus. The dorms come with Wi-Fi, but in Black Mirror fashion, access was purchased using virtual coins. These are rewarded by either downloading apps or clicking on ads.
A recurring topic in Zeng’s account is sleep. He describes how tiring the work can be, and how employees used every moment they could spare to nod off—but not lie down, lest they be punished.
Zeng does believe Apple “has really been following the rules” regarding overtime pay. He says they pay time and a half for overtime during workdays and double on weekends. But after working in the factory for six weeks, Zeng left with just enough money to purchase his own iPhone 7. He got paid around 4,600 yuan, or $667.00 total. The graduate student says most people building iPhones don’t own one themselves because of the low wages, and instead purchase from Chinese companies like Oppo.
“I don’t think people really see it as a career. The turnover rate is very high. It’s very normal for workers to leave after two weeks or a month. Some workers get there and if they don’t like it, they quit very quick.”
Zeng says working at the factory is simply a way for people to get money between jobs. And when asked about President Trump’s intentions to bring Apple manufacturing to the United States, he bluntly explained why American citizens wouldn’t benefit, “I would see workers getting replaced by a lot of machines, because a lot of the work I see in the factory can actually be done by machine.”
H/T Business Insider