Source: The Independent
At first, this isn’t going to sound like a good news story, never mind one of the most inspiring stories in the world today. But trust me: it is. Yan Li spent his life tweaking tiny bolts, on a production line, for the gadgets that make our lives zing and bling. He might have pushed a crucial component of the laptop I am writing this article on, or the mobile phone that will interrupt your reading of it. He was a typical 27-year-old worker at the gigantic Foxconn factory in Shenzen, Southern China, which manufactures i-Pads and Playstations and mobile-phone batteries.
Li was known to the company by his ID number: F3839667. He stood at a whirring line all day, every day, making the same tiny mechanical motion with his wrist, for 20p an hour. According to his family, sometimes his shifts lasted for 24 hours; sometimes they stretched to 35. If he had tried to form a free trade union to change these practices, he would have been imprisoned for 12 years. On the night of 27 May, after yet another marathon-shift, Li dropped dead.
Deaths from overwork are so common in Chinese factories that they have a word for it: guolaosi. China Daily estimates that 600,000 people are killed this way every year, mostly making goods for us. Li had never experienced any health problems, his family says, until he started this work schedule; Foxconn say he died of asthma and his death had nothing to do with them. The night Li died, yet another Foxconn worker committed suicide – the tenth this year.
For two decades now, you and I have shopped until Chinese workers dropped. Business has bragged about the joys of the China Price. They have been less keen for us to see the Human Price. KYE Systems Corp run a typical factory in Donguan in southern mainland China, and one of their biggest clients is Microsoft – so in 2009 the US National Labour Committee sent Chinese investigators undercover there. On the first day a teenage worker whispered to them: “We are like prisoners here.”
The staff work and live in giant factory-cities that they almost never leave. Each room sleeps 10 workers, and each dorm houses 5,000. There are no showers; they are given a sponge to clean themselves with. A typical shift begins at 7.45am and ends at 10.55pm. Workers must report to their stations 15 minutes ahead of schedule for a military-style drill: “Everybody, attention! Face left! Face right!” Once they begin, they are strictly forbidden from talking, listening to music, or going to the lavatory. Anybody who breaks this rule is screamed at and made to clean the lavatories as punishment. Then it’s back to the dorm.
It’s the human equivalent of battery farming. One worker said: “My job is to put rubber pads on the base of each computer mouse … This is a mind-numbing job. I am basically repeating the same motion over and over for over 12 hours a day.” At a nearby Meitai factory, which made keyboards for Microsoft, a worker said: “We’re really livestock and shouldn’t be called workers.” They are even banned from making their own food, or having sex. They live off the gruel and slop they are required to buy from the canteen, except on Fridays, when they are given a small chicken leg and foot “to symbolise their improving life”.