Foxconn, the Chinese industrial giant, has been under the spotlight recently due to a string of suicides supposedly linked to the factory’s awful working conditions. Foxconn is Apple’s main supplier for product manufacturing; it’s the place where our iPhones get made.

A french journalist and photographer, Jordan Pouille, recently revisited a large Foxconn facorty in Longhua, China. His visit was in tandem with a highly publicized pay raise for the factory’s 300,000+ Chinese workers.

While it seems that the living conditions of these young workers (mostly teenagers or young 20-somethings) has improved since Foxconn’s dehumanizing treatment of its employees was brought into the light, something still doesn’t feel right about the way that our gadgets are being made…

Apple is not the only company that uses Foxconn’s manpower to make its products; Sony, Dell, HP and Nokia (just to name a few) are also participants in keeping the production mill of Foxconn operational.

Jordan Pouille painted a disturbed and bleak picture of the living conditions for the next generation of Chinese migrant workers. Foxconn recently raised the wages for its employees significantly, due to a scandalous string of over 14 recent suicides that left the company in PR hell with the rest of the free world.

Jordan Pouille summarizes his opinion on the current state of Foxconn’s living conditions, “Salary is now high, better than any other factory around, but happiness is still not here.”

Pouille chose to include some anecdotal references from his trip to Foxconn,

“Everyday, Xiao Li, 18 years old, wakes up at 6 in the morning in a room where she has be assigned by her manager, with 9 other people, coming from 9 different places. On 6h40, she leaves her room, walks down a long road and arrives at the South gate after a 20 minutes walk. She will buy noodles on her way, like every morning. If she eats at the canteen, she will waste time and sleep less.

In this giant factory outside Shenzhen, Xiao Li and her 300 000 comrades get ready for a 13 hours a working day (excluding lunch break, including overtime), six days a week with a 10 minutes break every two hours. Six days a week is normal in China but it can easily turn to 7 days when sudden customers’ orders come up.

At her production assembly line, which has always been relying on human labour more than sophisticated machines for cost reasons, she is not allowed to speak, listen to music or even look at her comrades while trying to achieve the christmas production targets.

Her mobile is confiscated every morning too, but insults from managers, she says, have disappeared. Instead, they just ignore her, after all the bad publicity they got last spring when 13 Foxconn suicides hit the headlines which blamed the company for harsh management.”

Pouille shares multiple stories like Xioa Li’s, telling how Foxconn’s workers endure 13 hour shifts 6 days a week with only a 10 minute break every two hours, or how a 17 year old girl will be making 28,000 HP ink cartridges a day for the next three years.

According to Pouille, the Foxconn workers never really put up a fight to negotiate about their long hours or working conditions,

“The young foxconn workers are obedient, have almost no previous work experience and they don’t have a clue about what labor rights mean, according to Liu Kaiming, director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a labour rights group in Shenzhen. They would never complain, in such an unfriendly environnement where security guards are everywhere: at the dorms, at the recruitement center or at the workshop.”

There also seems to be plenty of authoritative abuse from Foxconn security and management,

“Inside the factory, if you call the police number , you will have great chance to be transfered automatically to the guards phone number. As far as me and my cantonese interpreter were concerned, guards illegaly tried to check my passport and her ID card, and even called the police when we asked them politely to call the media department for us. For sure, Foxconn likes secrecy.”

Foxconn’s human relations department seems to be almost non-existent,

“Fragile Foxcoon workers are supposed to be offered psychological support through a hotline phone number. The calls are not anonymous at all, as you must give your name and the number of your workshop BEFORE telling about your problem… These psychologists are simply other workmates who have been offered this unusual position overnight after a quick book training. This leads to unsolvable situations.”

Pouille tells the specific story of young man who works on the iPhone production line,

“We also met Ling Hui Ping on the way to the factory. He told us he was on the iPhone assembly line. He is coming from Hunan. His parents are crop farmers. At 20h30, after listening politely to his managers comments and criticisms, after cleaning his workshop perimeter, it’s time for this 18 year old boy to rush to his dorm, alone. Because Foxconn city is so big, it can easily take half an hour to get back home. At 21h30, he will only enjoy one hour to empty his head and get a life: calling his family, taking a shower before his dorm lights are turned off.”

Whether you believe that Apple should be supporting a company like Foxconn or not, the state of Foxconn living conditions are obviously troubled.

The small dorms for the workers are barred to prevent more suicide attempts. If that doesn’t paint a bleak enough picture for you, I don’t know what will.

You can continue reading Jordan Pouille’s article on Foxconn’s workers. He has plenty of photography from his trip there as well.

Apple charges what most would deem “exorbitant” prices for their products. I almost understand a company like HP, who sells some of the cheapest computers available, using a production line like Foxconn’s. But Apple? A company that prides itself by putting “Designed by Apple in California” on their products?

If there is any technology company that could afford to stop working with Foxconn, it would seem to be Apple. So, why is Apple supporting the bleak living conditions that Foxconn forces onto its employees?

What can we do about this? If you feel that what Foxconn is doing is wrong, how can you make your voice known? Some would say don’t buy Apple products. What do you say?