A Night at the Electronics Factory

The New York Times spends a night with workers at Shenzhen’s now-notorious plant:

And what is life like for a cog in China’s labor-intensive factory model? Mr. Yuan, with the approval of his supervisor, described it for The New York Times last week before and after his Thursday shift.

7:30 p.m. | | The Shift Begins

Mr. Yuan (pronounced yu-wen) wakes at 6:10 p.m. at his small apartment, a 20-minute walk from Foxconn’s campus. He arrives at the factory at 6:50 for a quick free meal at the canteen, then starts work at 7:30.

His task is to help complete 1,600 hard drives — his workshop’s daily quota — and to make sure every one is perfect. Seated in the middle of the assembly line in his black Foxconn sports shirt, cotton slacks and company-mandated white plastic slippers, he waits for the conveyor belt to deliver a partly assembled rectangular hard drive to his station. He places two plastic chips inside the drive’s casing, inserts a device that redirects light in the drive and then fastens four screws with an electric screwdriver before sending the drive down the line. He has exactly one minute to complete the multistep task.

Working at a company known for its precision and military-style regimentation is not easy. Mr. Yuan can take his cellphone to work, as long as it doesn’t have a camera, but no MP3 players are allowed. He can chat with other line workers, but on the line there are no wasted movements; they have been analyzed and tested with a stopwatch, he said.

“If you do the same thing all day long you can become numb,” he said. “But I’ve gotten used to doing this type of work.”

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