Joel Johnson of Wired takes a trip to China to visit the Foxconn factory.
According to company lore, Foxconn founder Terry Gou was determined to do things differently. So when the firm built its Longhua factory in Shenzhen, it included onsite dormitories—good ones, designed to be better than what workers could afford on their own. Terry Gou built on-campus housing, I am told, because Terry Gou cared about the welfare of his employees.
Up went a factory, up went a dorm. Up went an assembly line, up went a cafeteria. While other companies’ workers fended for themselves or slept under the tables they worked at, Gou’s employees were well fed, safe from the petty crime of a growing metropolis, and surrounded by peers and advocates.
There’s something to be said about paying your employees well and giving them good benefits, especially in something as mundane as manufacturing. This is how Henry Ford was successful in the early 20th century. It’s how companies can continue to be successful today.
What’s amazing is what life in manufacturing is really like:
This is what it’s like to work at the Foxconn factory: You enter a five- or six-story concrete building, pull on a plastic jacket and hat, and slip booties over your shoes. You walk up a wide staircase to your assigned floor, the entirety of which lies open under unwavering fluorescent light.
It’s likely that your job will require you to sit or stand in place for most of your shift. Maybe you grab components from a bin and slot them into circuit boards as they move down a conveyer. Or you might tend a machine, feeding it tape that holds tiny microprocessors like candy on paper spools. Or you may sit next to a refrigerator-sized machine, checking its handiwork under a magnifying glass. Or you could sit at a bench with other technicians placing completed cell-phone circuit boards into lead-lined boxes resembling small kilns, testing each piece for electromagnetic interference.
If you have to go to the bathroom, you raise your hand until your spot on the line can be covered. You get an hour for lunch and two 10-minute breaks; roles are switched up every few days for cross-training. It seems incredibly boring—like factory work anywhere in the developed world.
You work 10 hours or so, depending on overtime. You walk or take a shuttle back to your dorm, where you share a room with up to seven other employees that Foxconn management has selected as your bunkmates. You watch television in a common room with bench seating, on an HDTV that seems insultingly small compared with the giant units you and your coworkers make every day. Or maybe you play videogames or check email in one of the on-campus cybercafes, perhaps sharing a semiprivate “couple’s booth” with a girlfriend or boyfriend.
In the morning, you clean yourself up in your room’s communal sink or in one of the dorm’s showers, then head back to the production line to do it all over again.