A rare and horrifying look at living conditions in an iPhone factory

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Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 20.26.00
A Pegatron toilet that had to accommodate up to 40 workers.
Photo: The Daily Mail

A rare look inside the abandoned facilities where Chinese workers toiled away making iPhones reveals a grim environment that’s a long way from Silicon Valley’s plush lifestyle.

Depressing images reveal the tiny rooms where up to 12 Pegatron workers slept each night, the dirty dining areas where they ate, and the disgusting bathrooms where they washed.

Apple has been criticized countless times for seemingly turning a blind eye to the working conditions in Chinese factories, where its iPhones, iPads, and other devices are put together by workers who frequently carry out 12-hour shifts, six days a week for as little as $360 a month.

Previous reports have revealed how these conditions have led to worker riots and strikes, and even mass suicides.

Apple insists it is listening, and it prides itself on doing more than any other Silicon Valley giant to try and change that. It has laid out rules that its assembly partners must adhere to, hired investigators to carry out checks, and funded worker training.

But there’s still so much to be done. This is highlighted in an eye-opening exclusive from The Daily Mailwhich visited a recently abandoned Pegatron factory outside Shanghai where workers lived in shocking conditions as they assembled the iPhone 6.

While production was at its peak, 6,000 workers were crammed into the dormitories, which slept 8 to 12 people in tiny bunk beds. There are no private bathrooms, so workers were forced to shower alongside up to 20 colleagues at a time.

“There is a similar, stark lack of privacy in shared toilet blocks on each floor where squatting cubicles are positioned above open sewerage drains running the length of the toilet block, and in washrooms with long rows of wash basins,” reports The Mail.

In some toilet blocks, pools of green water lay on the floor, and mold covered the walls that featured handwritten signs laying out rules the workers must follow.

The tour also uncovered padlocked fences that separated the men’s and women’s dorms, and belongings that were abandoned when workers left for the Lunar New Year and were told they didn’t need to come back.

“At Apple, we are deeply committed to making sure everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” reads a letter from Apple COO Jeff Williams in the company’s latest Supplier Responsibility Progress Report.

“Our team works hard to raise the bar every year to improve working conditions, provide educational opportunities, push for higher standards of living, and protect human rights.”

Pegatron still employs 50,000 factory workers, and continues to assemble products for Apple. But as its orders dwindled, this particular plant was closed down. As it was shuttered only eight weeks ago, the pictures still paint an accurate picture of current conditions.

Apple and Pegatron have allowed cameras into factories before, but this is the first time we’ve had a glimpse at the dormitories. Pegatron insists that the living conditions it creates are in compliance with its customers’ codes of conduct, while Apple offered no comment.

Check out The Mail’s full report to see all of the pictures.

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  • TJ

    Nevermind Apple, which always seems to be the poster child when it comes to news items like this. What about all the other well known tech companies that use the exact same factories to manufacture phones, tablets, computers, etc. I don’t see all the other bog boys being dragged into this or making any comment about what they do for workers in these factories.

    • KillianBell

      Excellent point!

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      That’s because when you write an article and use the word “Apple”, they get more hits, which helps ad clicks. Secondly, because Apple’s wealthier than these others.

      People seem to forget that China has completely different “everything” when it comes to mfg than the US or other more advanced countries.

      Ramping up mfg to meet production demands for smartphones has been difficult as it they they can’t ramp things up as fast as demand.

      And these articles are just written to make people feel guilty. It’s all of this guilt trip bullshit.

      How about showing kids in poor countries that drink dirty water on TV to get people to send them money?

  • Hector

    Daily Mail ? Seriously ? Please Killian, let’s stop this before we fall to the bottom and start quoting The Sun, shall we ?

  • Gregory

    Tim Cook said that Apple wants to change the World he should start with Apple they can create all worlds best products,and I am an employee
    at a place where I’m treated like the people in China,it should not be like this in 2016 for no one in this life,this story makes me not to ever want to buy another apple product,and i’m “apple crazy”where I work they treat me the same way,it’s Truly sad

    • Leon Bollerup

      Resign? – Its your choice wether you want to work at that company or not.. nobody is forcing you.

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      It’s not just Apple. Google, Microsoft, HP, ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, etc. all use the same companies to make their products, Apple is always getting more attention because they have more cash in the bank, but the fact is that these mfg companies are owned and managed by Asian companies, and Apple can’t just CHANGE everything with a click of the finger. For those that think that it can are completely delusional to the real world.

      At least Apple has done things with Foxconn and others to improve working conditions, the only problem is that it takes a lot of time to change things.

  • iheartapple2

    I’m surprised you guys posted this crap. Makes you seem almost desperate for clicks. What a shame.

    • Undivided

      Yea truth hurts doesnt iheartapple2? Should add fanboy to the end of your name. Doesnt matter whom the company is, this is appaling. Tim Cook is a hypocrit and should be ashamed that this is happening under his watch. No human being should live or work this way while others live in the lap of luxery and turn a blind eye. When all is said and done, Cook is not doing enough and he should be ashamed.

      • Leon Bollerup

        try blaming foxconn and not Apple – hold the right people/company responsible.. Apple does not own Its vendor..

      • CelestialTerrestrial

        Why are you blaming Apple? These places are NOT owned or managed by Apple.

        It’s like me blaming you for something that you have no control over.

        What do you expect? That they send in a team of construction workers and interior designers and completely renovate all of these buildings over the weekend? Yeah, right. Even if Apple had the money they couldn’t do that. It would STILL take years to do that.

      • The Werewolf

        Actually, that’s not *entirely* true.

        Apple happens to be one of the largest customers for companies like FoxConn. Apple also impose more rules and demands on these companies than the other do.

        Apple’s near paranoiac security, for example, requires FoxConn to implement very unusual requirements of its workers in terms of where they can go, what they can say and when. In fact, at least one FoxConn employee committed suicide when he was accused of violating those rules.

        Apple’s ‘just in time’ approach to products also puts huge work loads on FoxConn workers at specific times of the year.

        The reality is that NO other computer company works that way with FoxConn or any other Chinese manufacturer because they don’t have the level of secrecy and the weird release schedules Apple does – primarily because for most other companies – you release when you’re ready and no one really gets wound up about it.

        And FoxConn can’t really afford to say no to Apple. It’s just too much money and prestige.

        BTW, Samsung has its own production facilities and they don’t have the same level of employee problems FoxConn seems to have. Their employees are paid better and work better hours.

        If Samsung, who isn’t even close to Apple in ‘value’ can do it, Apple can. Perhaps if you stopped looking for reasons to let Apple off the hook – or rationalise for them – you’d see this.

        And yes, EVERY company should be held accountable for the way the companies treat their employees. The fact that others don’t seem to be in no way validates Apple not being held accountable. Just because some people don’t get caught for tax fraud doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be charged with it when you’re caught.

  • Jack-Lamar Ron

    Really! Consider the source man! By the way, there is no proof in this video.

  • Jack-Lamar Ron

    You will loose people like this.

  • Jstreet

    I would ask this question, as bad as these Barricks seem to us how do they compare to the barracks of other companies that Apple doesn’t deal with? As far as the bathrooms and living arrangements go seems fairly close to when I was in the army.

  • USAinChina

    This is fairly typical of most school, factory or company dormitories in China. Even if they paid to stay there it was probably much cheaper than renting an apartment nearby or sharing one with roommates, neither of which would have had much better living conditions due to the low wages.

  • This is “business as usual in CHINA”. Chinese companies tend to treat their workers on a much lower standard than American, Canadian and European companies. However, the way businesses are run in CHINA seems to be all Apple’s fault. No other company is called out, no one else is held responsible, no other company seems to have any influence or do any manufacturing in China, therefore the way CHINESE businesses operate in CHINA is all Apple’s fault. See how this works? Somehow anything that’s bad that happens in the world is Apple’s fault, and Tim Cook should be ashamed.

    What I’d like to see is a comparison between factories and dormitories in China operated by companies that have no connection to Apple. I think it would become instantly obvious that worker conditions in these factories and dorms is actually better than in other non-Apple related companies. They have different standards in China. Despite what we in the west consider low standards, these are probably pretty good compared to other companies. This is my supposition and not based on personal research — which is why I’d like to see some real journalism that isn’t just based on the “Apple is bad because…” meme.

  • Trippex dj

    How about Samsung factories I think that should be next

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      Samsung uses essentially the same companies as Apple. It’s these outsourcing companies, and all of these problems take time to fix. Remember, these companies have to meet production demands and they can’t build buildings fast enough to house the people needed to mfg the products. For many of these people, if they didn’t have a job, they’d be homeless. At least they have a roof over their heads. Conditions will improve over time, but the problem is NOT going to be fixed overnight. For those that think that it can and will are completely delusional.

      At least at Foxconn, their pay has increased every year, and they are capping their overtime. But it’s a problem that WILL take years to fix.

      • The Werewolf

        No, for the most part they don’t.

        Samsung owns its own production facilities. In fact, they are one of the companies from which Apple buys parts and assemblies. Apple gets its displays and their CPUs from Samsung.

        And Samsung treats its workers far better than this. Mind you, Samsung is a *Korean* company, not a Chinese one and the labour laws there are stricter.

  • Eliijah Moss

    Ok. So is no one even considering that the place was abandoned? A lot can change in little time when people are not around to clean the facilities.

    And the design of the complex? Are you serious? I’m sure that most places are designed like that in China. In China, it’s about modernizing while being compact. You don’t see people sleeping in 5 bed room 5 bathroom houses. You see them sleeping in tiny areas. There are many factors that play into this.

    I just don’t understand what this headline’s goal was. To show an ABANDONED facility that workers USED to work at? And how long ago was that to be exact? Was it months, weeks, years? Until someone provides me with a credible source of information, I will continue believe that this is NOT Apple’s fault. It’s easy to point fingers at someone else, but never your self…

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    And these companies like Pegatron, Foxconn, etc. don’t just make iPhones, they make products for all of the major computer, smartphone, electronics companies. So STOP blaming Apple. Apple has very little control over this.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    Does anyone notice that these are OLD buildings? Are they showing their NEW buildings? NO. Why not? Probably because they are much nicer than the old outdated buildings and it wouldn’t have that much of an impact in terms of writing an article. . Pretty stupid to show old buildings when they’ve built new ones that are probably a lot nicer. And no, I don’t expect these companies to roll out the red carpet and set them up in living conditions like a 4 star hotel either. These are entry level mfg positions where they simply don’t treat them the same as if they were educated people getting paid decent salaries.

  • JackThomasAZ

    Multiple stalls in the restroom? My employer has 1 stall and 1 urinal for 60 employees!

    • Railgun

      Time to get a real big boy job.

  • jose

    i lived in China, and i can tell you 90 % of the people there live in worst conditions…infact they live better than in more parts of the world

  • MiniYY

    “Horrifying?” Exaggerate much? Anyone who’s actually been around China would recognize that those conditions are pretty darn well above average. Not every work place has mood lighting in the common areas and porcelain bidets in the restrooms. There’s no story here.

    • Joseph Tosi

      I had to chuckle a bit at all the descriptions of the “grim,” “depressing,” “dirty” conditions. This sounds like the average public toilet in China. It’s a daily reality in many parts of the country, at least for the time being. As far as there being “no privacy”, the typical Chinese person is definitely a lot less concerned about that compared to those of us who grew up in the West. A Chinese friend recently told me about his college dormitory (where they sleep maybe 6 in the same room in small bunkbeds), “There’s no privacy but who cares? Who needs that?”

  • jbelkin

    Er, have you ever been in a frat house on any college campus? I was at one at a school that charges $40k a year that had a new life form that grew from from the shower up to the ceiling … how’s this compared to the chicken plant in the US that made people wear diapers to cut down on bathroom breaks?