A Visit to Foxconn’s Not-So-Secret iPhone Factory in Brazil [Exclusive]


A view of Foxconn's new iPhone plant. Photo: Alessandro Salvatori, Blog do iPhone.
A view of Foxconn's new iPhone plant. Photo: Alessandro Salvatori, Blog do iPhone.

Jundiaí, Brazil – Foxconn’s iPhone and soon-to-be iPad factory about 45 miles north of Sao Paulo is an open secret; despite all the conjecture, it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be and three curious reporters had no problems poking around.

On Oct. 31, the Brazilian telecommunications document agency ANATEL issued the OK for Foxconn to start producing mobile phones for Apple. Although the government started talks for a Foxconn plant back in April 2011, this was the first official document wedding Apple’s name with Foxconn in Brazil. After reading about the news in the Sao Paulo daily Folha, I spent about 20 minutes fudging around with my minimal Portuguese to track down the document with the exact address on the agency’s website.

Curious to see what was actually at that address, I asked (well, pleaded with) MacMais editor Sérgio Miranda to drive me there. He and Alessandro Salvatori from Blog do iPhone agreed to spend the day taking me on a wild goose chase.

A worker on break inside the Foxconn plant. Photo: Nicole Martinelli.

Although Google Maps lists a handful of addresses for Foxconn in the Jundiaí (pronounced June-ja-ee) area, this isn’t one of them. The blue-and-white factory complex, which carries the anonymous-sounding name Grupo Jundiaí (Jundiaí Group), had about 70 cars in the lot and the air of still being half under construction on our mid-week visit. It sits atop a hill which could be pretty much anywhere in the world, except for the roadside wild hibiscus bushes in a riot of spring bloom. The road leading up to it is rumored to be changing its name to Rua Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs Street.

Everyone we talked to said it was Foxconn’s new iPhone factory, the only hesitation seemed to be about what models they were making and when the iPads would start rolling out.

No one was bothered by our little group hanging around the parking lot, taking pictures and asking questions of people wearing Foxconn worker ID badges. (Sérgio’s Apple logo t-shirt, bought from the Cupertino company store, pretty much blew his “undercover” efforts, but he made conversation with several workers and no one questioned what we were doing there).

An view of the Foxconn plant. Photo: A. Salvatori, Blog do iPhone.

Alessandro, meanwhile, pretended to be a job seeker and chatted up two women waiting by the black iron gate holding what looked like job applications. Turns out they were, in fact, waiting for interviews. The older one, a petite woman in her late 40s with a long ponytail, said her husband already works there. When asked what they make at the factory, without any prompting she said “iPhones” (pronounced “iPhone-y”) and volunteered that they expected to make iPads there, soon, too. The complex, she added, unlike some of the surrounding Foxconn plants, only works for Apple. The Shenzhen-based company also currently produces components and assembles PCs and mobile phones for HP and Dell in the Jundiaí area.

Because of the large market and exorbitant local prices (2-3 times what Apple products retail for elsewhere), the prospect of Brazilian-produced iPhones and iPads has been dribbled skillfully by politicians and machers looking to score on the business playing field for at least a decade, but that particular goal has remained elusive.

That’s why when I asked him to take me on a quest for the rumored iPad factory, Sérgio was pretty exasperated. Journalist that he is, no one has yet convinced him of the real “why” of a Brazilian-made devices, especially when Apple produces and ships devices all over the world from China, including back home to California.

He still isn’t sure why, but it seems certain that they are. (The Foxconn press office in Brazil and Apple both refused to confirm information about the plant for this story.) A nurse who works in the infirmary told us the factory has been rented to Foxconn since at least June or July of this year, adding that the speed of operations has resulted in a “pretty crude” interior, desks missing phones and the like, but assured us that the plant is already in production.

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