A Day In The Life Of An iPhone Factory Worker

A new report reveals the daily routine of factory workers at China's second-largest Apple supplier.

At the second-largest Apple supplier factory in China, pregnant and underage workers put in 66-hour weeks (China's legal max is 49) while being forced to sign falsified time cards, according to a nonprofit group called China Labor Watch. One undercover investigator posing as a worker at the plant was scolded by a supervisor for asking for a restroom break.

China Labor Watch has just released the results of an extensive behind-the-scenes investigation of three factories that are subsidiaries of Pegatron Group, which supplies Microsoft, Dell, and HP as well as Apple. The report alleges 86 separate legal and ethical labor violations, although most of the tech press were more focused on the "scoop" that there is going to be a new, low-cost iPhone.

In a statement, Apple said the report included claims "that are new to us and we will investigate them immediately. Our audit teams will return to Pegatron, RiTeng and AVY for special inspections this week. If our audits find that workers have been underpaid or denied compensation for any time they’ve worked, we will require that Pegatron reimburse them in full."

Based on months of undercover investigation, the report gives an intimate look at the lives of workers making your iPhones and iPads. Here's what a day looks like according to the report:

6:30 a.m.: Get up in your dorm. Wait for the shuttle bus.

8:10 a.m.: Workers, some of whom are student "interns" who pay part of their salaries to their schools, under 18, or pregnant, start the day with an unpaid 20-minute meeting. They must shout out slogans like "quality, discipline, unity. I’m the best! Work hard!" and clap their hands, or stand at military attention and be berated for missing quotas. There are three of these meetings a day.

8:30 a.m.: Work begins. The workday typically lasts 12 hours on the assembly line. There are 90 minutes of breaks for meals and restroom. No talking. No standing up. No drinking water at your station. No cell phones. If you finish your work early, you must sit down and read employee manuals.

9:30 a.m.: The day's task is to assemble back covers for the iPad. The quota is 600 per day, or 1 per minute.

10:30 a.m.: Ask your team leader for a bathroom break. "No one else wants to go. Only you are such a pain!"

12 p.m.: Lunch. At the dining hall, meals are 2 RMB ($0.33) to 5 RMB ($0.81) for breakfast and 5 RMB to 10 RMB ($1.63) RMB for lunch and dinner. The food is "bad," with dinner mainly reheated lunch; on the plus side, there is a free piece of fruit every Wednesday.

1 p.m.: Back to work. Choice disciplinary quotes from managers: "If you don’t obey, I will expose you to the blazing sun until 12 o’clock"; "Which son of a bitch is talking?"; "Don’t talk; be quiet! Who’s still fucking talking over there?"; "If I ever catch someone who hasn’t cleaned up the area under his seat, the whole assembly line will work overtime for nothing. Don’t get others in trouble."

5 p.m.: Break. The factory campus includes a supermarket, post office, bank branch, hair salon, library with Internet access, basketball court, and gym. The most popular are the basketball court and the supermarket, even though the food prices are inflated.

7 p.m.: No guests. No gossiping. No revealing your pay. No smoking outside smoking areas. No passing out leaflets. No instigating a strike (grounds for dismissal).

8:30 p.m.: Once a week you must sign a falsified time sheet meant for Apple inspectors. The sheet records 10 to 16 hours of overtime, when the real number is 20+ hours. Workers depend on overtime to make a living wage.

9 p.m.: After the evening meeting, and a wait in a security line, take a company shuttle to grab a more edible meal at the outdoor night market.

10 p.m.: Back to the dorm, where hundreds share a dozen showers. Dorm rules: No pets. No alcohol. No sitting on balconies. No switching rooms or beds. No gambling. No outside guests (grounds for dismissal).

11 p.m.: Finally get a shower. The water is cold.

11:30 p.m.: Fall into your bunk exhausted in a room with 11 other workers. Surf the Internet on your cell phone for a few minutes before you fall asleep. Wake up. Repeat.

[Image: Wu Niu | Imaginechina via AP Images | AP Images]

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  • Noel Davila Guillory

    What are our options as consumers? I don't want to support this kind of industry, and if there are smart phones produced here in the U.S. I would prefer to support that business. If we're willing to pay extra to support better conditions for workers, what should we buy instead?

  • Jillray2468

    It is not just the tech industry using such unethical practices, other industries such toys and clothing also do as well and have been doing so for a few decades if not more. This is nothing new it has just come to light because of the availability of information.

  • Ying

    A lot of people might say that Apple is getting "singled out", but you must first remember that they have the HIGHEST Profit Margins in the entire Tech industry. If the most profitable manufacturer does not take the lead on this, obviously neither will other less profitable ones.

  • LookAtYourself

    Another not very veiled attack on Apple as if Michael Dell and Bill Gates are not doing the same thing.

    It's not the evil capitalist US business owner who is to blame here... capitalism is seeping into China and companies there trying to make profits too... But it's not capitalism that's the problem.

    The high tax rates that accompany the ever increasing socialism in the US is driving down personal income... And we have at the same time been conditioned with a need for instant gratification... As a result we have to have our cars with 18 airbags, 10 heated cupholders, and talking satnav; a$5 cup of coffee every day; so theres not much money left for that new smart phone every 6 months.

    I'm afraid it's our own insatiable greed that's to blame.

  • FakUSA

    Most of all your cloths, electronics, shoes, etc. Are made in China, do actually think this is not true??? and about apple no knowing this, thats BS, theres a list companies who have underage, pregntant, shit work place, etc available on Chinese consulates or economy website, but these kind of company pays less, so that means, you pay less and tha means more money for apple. Sadly many chinese dont have the choice to get another job.

  • Noel Davila Guillory

    I think that buying clothes, electronics, shoes, etc. made in China is a choice. Ethical, local and eco-friendly clothing and shoes definitely exist and there's a growing market for such products. As consumers we can demand ethically-sourced products and the market will respond. Let's take some responsibility as consumers and do what we can to create positive change.

  • Panlong90

    Doesn't seem to be solid journalism. The term pregnant is used too loosely. How many, and how long into their pregnancy? And most importantly, what's the condition compared to the overall working conditions across the industry? 

  • Guest1023

    The other factories are worse but you wouldn't click on the article unless it said Apple

  • spandrelmatic

    Apple CEO and former COO Tim Cook, one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World, is the guy behind the reinvention of Apple's supply chain and manufacturing operations. Does anyone really believe he is unaware of the working conditions at these Chinese factories? How long do we keep giving this massively profitable company a pass?

  • max

    Do you really think, that all this underaged pregnant workers (if there is any, no proof) will be greatful to leave this work, as a consequence of this noble investigation? Of course, they don't need money at all, or have all this other great working opportunities, but was forced to work in this place.

  • $3919854

     What makes you think that Cook, despite being Apple's CEO, has any power over these horridly despotic people in China?

  • $3919854

     That goes without saying but I am sure he is limited on the number of places he can go. It's too bad our own country has such an anti-business climate that he isn't only too happy to have his entire production process take place right here.