A Night in the Life of a Foxconn Worker

After a rash of employee suicides brought scrutiny to the working conditions in Foxconn's factories, some horror stories quickly came to light. Now, the Times has followed a worker through his average night-shift, assembling some 1,600 hard drives.

His opinion? It's hard work, but it's work nonetheless.

24 year old Yuan Yandong says that work at Foxconn, where employees' movements are rigorously timed and optimized for efficiency, can make one "numb," but he says he's mostly gotten used to it. During his shift, which lasts from 7:30pm to sometime after 5:30am, depending on overtime, he is one station in a vast hard drive assembly line:

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.

Yeah, that sounds pretty miserable, but it's not necessarily the hell factory that some reports have described. Granted, the Times stipulates that Yandong talked to the paper "with the approval of his supervisor," and presumably the Foxconn experience varies greatly from factory to factory, worker to worker.

Still, disturbingly, Yandong wasn't aware that he was only legally allowed to work a maximum of 36 hours overtime a month, and said that he often worked twice that, especially when big orders came in to his factory.

The full account has plenty more details—workers aren't allowed to listen to MP3 players, but get a one hour lunch break mid-shift, etc—and is certainly worth a read, but ultimately it's just another keyhole glimpse into a largely undocumented Foxconn factory culture. Reports like this one help fill out our picture of what it's really like to work in China's electronics factories, but what remains to be understood is if most employees have adjusted to the work or have indeed been numbed by its demands. [NYT]