Following the revelation that Mike Daisey, an author and actor who accused Apple of ill-treating its factory workers, had fabricated some of his reports, a journalist has visited Foxconn factories to try to find out the truth about worker conditions in China.
Rob Schmitz, the journalist who unearthed Daisey's lies, has become the second journalist to be granted access to Apple production lines in Chinese Foxconn factories.
Schmitz reported back from his factory visit in a radio interview for Marketplace.
"In this factory, on the iPad assembly line, what at first hits you is just the sheer amount of people," Schmitz explained. "You see line after line of hundreds of workers, and you get this relation that this is a real manual labour process for what is a machine that's very sleek and looks like a machine actually made it. But in fact, every single part of that is being put together by a person."
Following rigorous investigations of its factories, Foxconn has agreed to reduce the overtime hours for workers, but Schmitz reveals that this decision could make matters worse for some factory employees.
"I asked the workers what less overtime would mean for them," Schmitz claims. "Now keep in mind that 99 per cent of the workforce at the Shenzhen factory are migrant workers. They came to Shenzhen from hundreds of miles away to work here, and they came here specifically to work a lot of overtime."
Schmitz spoke to Xu, a Shenzhen factory worker, who explained the effect less overtime will have on his life. "He'll return to his home village soon. He's realised that he can't save enough money living in a developed coastal city like Shenzhen – the cost of living is just too high," said Schmitz.
Not only is Foxconn reducing workers' hours, but it is also replacing people with machines in some areas, Schmitz explains. On the iPad assembly line the assembly of the motherboard to the iPad was now being done by a machine: "I asked one of the engineers what impact that had on Foxconn's workforce, and he told me that the machine replaced about one-seventh, about 28 workers, on that particular line."
During Schmitz's report, Louis Woo, a Foxconn spokesman, said: "The new generation of workers, they don't like to engage in this line of business as much as before. So in a sense you can argue that China is changing; the workers are changing; and so is Foxconn."
Schmitz explained that he thinks Woo is saying that less assembly line work will occur in developed parts of China. Instead, companies are likely to move their factories away from the coast, meaning workers will not need to migrate in order to work.
"Foxconn's already doing this," said Schmitz. "The company's newest factories are all in inland provinces, and in some ways, this is a win-win. Foxconn saves money on wages because wages in China's interior are lower than on the coast. And the workers can be closer to their families."
Tim Cook visited the Foxconn Production line in March, just before the Fair Labour Association released its first report on worker conditions in the factory.