Undercover journalist lands job building iPhones at Foxconn, confirms fears about working conditions

An undercover reporter worked at a Foxconn factory, helping build the iPhone 5. What he reported confirmed what everyone already had known for a while: Apple's contractors are committing mass human rights violations in the pursuit of quick, cheap manufacturing.

A journalist working for Chinese news agency the Shanghai Evening Post might bring the Apple-crazed public back to reality on the day of the company's iPhone 5 announcement, releasing a report based on one of its reporters' 10-day stint working at the infamous Foxconn factory where the iPhone 5 was assembled.

According to a Geek.com report on the translated Shanghai Evening Post article, the reporter landed a lob at Foxconn relatively easily; he was subjected to 30 Yes/No questions to determine his mental health, then forced to sign a contract agreeing to keep everything about the plant confidential. The reporter was also "urged by managers to tick 'No' in the sections [of the contract] regarding noise and toxic pollution," according to Geek.com. This step came before he began working.

The reporter said the dormitory, where Foxconn employees stay after their uninterrupted 10-hour shifts, was infested with cockroaches. Employees were reguarly provided with dirty sheets. Windows were protected with bars. In late 2010, 18 Foxconn employees attempted suicide. Fourteen succeeded.

According to Geek.com, the Shanghai Evening Post reporter was assigned a job that Foxconn apparently typically reserves for female employees, because "they are seen as more nimble." His only duty was to "mark the back plate of the iPhone 5 using an oil pen." After being tasked with making the oil-pen marking accurately on five plates per minute - which amounted to roughly 3,000 plates over his 10-hour shift - and being repeatedly reprimanded for minor mistakes, the reporter determined the job might have been one better underatken by robots. But why purchase machinery when you can underpay human workers to do the same job?

The report is one the tech community has needed since March, when a report detailing poor working conditions at Foxconn factories in Public Radio International program This American Life was retracted for fabrications. As it turned out, reporter Mike Daisey had lied about the number of factories he visited, the number of employees he spoke with, and an anecdote regarding workers who had supposedly been poisoned by chemicals involved with the assumbly of the iPhone.

Though many of the deatils were false, the main point was not: Foxconn factories had been getting away with mistreating its employees. Regardless, the fabrication and subsequent retraction rendered the entire report moot, and distracted from the backlash Apple should have seen as a result.

Maybe, once the iPhone 5 fervor dies down, this report will stick. But, given Nike's continued penchant for cheap Asian labor a decade after it was called out for human rights violations, don't count on any changes.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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