Last Friday, only 12 days after the riot at Foxconn’s Taiyuan factory which involved thousands of workers, 3,000 to 4,000 workers at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant walked off the job when fights broke out between quality control inspectors and line workers (1,2).
Workers at the plant were reportedly being subjected to work intensification as the plant struggled to meet demand for the recently released iPhone 5. Already operating under tight deadlines and high quotas, Apple responded to iPhone consumer complaints about cosmetic defects to the phones’ outer cover by pressuring Foxconn to increase quality regulations at the plant (2,3).
This created tensions between line workers and quality control inspectors as heightened quality standards mean fewer products leave the production line and volume targets are harder to meet. Li Qiang, of China Labor Watch, points out that "they have such high expectations for these products, even if you raise the demands a little bit it makes a huge difference to the pressure on the workers”(3,4). China Labor Watch also found that lack of additional training, paired with already inadequate training, exacerbated the issue. Some workers were also reportedly upset by having to work though China’s weeklong national holiday (which began on September 30th and ended on the 7th of October) in order to meet production demands for the new iPhone (3).
Foxconn denies forcing people to work and points out that workers who “volunteered” to work on the holiday received additional compensation as required by the government.
This strike comes at a difficult time for Apple - having just released the iPhone 5 this September. Though Foxconn maintains that the strike did not halt production on the phone, China Labor Watch reports that several lines manufacturing the phone stopped production while workers protested (1,4).
So, here is a very straightforward example of how the needs of American consumers directly affect the quality of life of the Chinese workers assembling our products. Apple Corporation and Foxconn - as well as the American consumer - may each want to assign responsibility elsewhere, but they are all in some way profiting off of this process.