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.

A Day In The Life Of An iPhone Factory Worker

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]


About the author

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her 2011 ebook The Edupunks’ Guide was funded by the Gates Foundation.