The workspace where I’ve had my base of operations for the last two months has an employee who used to work at Foxconn as a test engineer. I asked him a few questions about his experience there. While the language barrier was a significant problem, I managed to find some questions and answers that worked. He seemed reluctant to go into detail. I imagine it was just as much because he was having a hard time understanding me and formulating answers.
He said living conditions consisted of dorms in which he lived with four people to a room. People worked eight hour days, but there was overtime of up to two hours per day. He said, “he likes his new job better, and that Foxconn was the best factory around.” That was about as far as we got from our walk to the office.
His current job, working in R&D at Seeedstudio, seems remarkably normal for an engineer anywhere. Employees arrive between 8-9. Typically, employees work until noon at his or her computer or in front of a lab bench. Lunch is catered, either in front of his or her computer or with coworkers. After lunch everyone takes an hour siesta. The afternoon session begins and employees work until 5-6. They eat catered dinner and go home in bunches.
I get the impression, not just from him but from other people I have interacted with, that employees have few complaints working in factories. Employees are treated well. Most, if not all, are young (college age or about), living in dorms. Living in a dormitory for these young people is partly social, partly time saving (oftentimes, dorms are right next to the factory), partly money saving (who ISN’T poor at that age?), and partly so they can send money back home. Sending money to his or her respective hometown is affordable because employees make more money in the factory than if they were working in the village. Living in dorms isn’t forced it’s a choice. People often choose to pile in the places with the cheapest rent.
I’ll admit, I didn’t particularly enjoy the catered lunches and dinners. Too many chicken necks and feet and random bones that had me flinching with every bite. The boss liked spicy food, so oftentimes that’s what we got. Otherwise it was fine. We could go back for seconds if we wanted. Lunch and dinner, together, cost about $3 a day.
I don’t mean for this post to be a generalization of all factories. Certainly there are places where workers are treated poorly. The impressions I received from the people I spoke to, factories I toured, and watching employee interactions, I realized things are not that bad. These experiences could be compared to a college sophomore in the dorms or a McDonald’s employee at work. Not ecstatic to be doing their job, but in a tolerable situation, making decent money.
Bob Baddeley is a software/hardware engineer from the USA. In 2012 he was chosen for a Chinese hardware startup accelerator to work on his product, the Portable Electronic Scoreboard. His articles can be found on his blog www.engineerinshenzhen.com.