The massive industrial building resembles a white cube with sparse, narrow windows.

This factory in Pi County, Sichuan Province, the poor and heavily populated region in southwest China, is run by the world’s largest electronics maker Foxconn – and it’s where two out of three iPads are made. “It’s as big as Monaco,” our taxi driver proudly says. But it’s much less chic: its staff work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for 2,000 yuan (€230; $315) a month, including overtime.

Workers live in De Yuan village, 15 kms away from Pi County and filled with 18-story dorms. “I pay $15 per month for a room that I share with 5 other workers. That’s $100 total for a 10 m2 room!” says Zhang, 30. His wife lives in a female dorm nearby. Their 3-year-old son is raised by grandparents in their hometown. To catch up with the world’s iPad frenzy, Foxconn Pi County will employ 350,000 people by late 2012. As a result, noisy cranes run night and day erecting more dorms.

For leisure time, Foxconn installed hundreds of ping-pong tables, convenience stores, and comfortable Internet cafes. After their shift, most male workers rush for a game of World of Warcraft.

 

But Foxconn prefers to have its workers sleeping.

Outside, guards are chasing illegal vendors of cheap noodles. “Foxconn people must eat at Foxconn canteen because it’s more convenient,” we’re told.

In “iPad City”, as the factory is known, every minute matters. “Six days a week, I wake up at 6 a.m., wait for a bus until 6:40, work from 7:30 until 20:30, with one hour break for lunch, that includes a 30 minute wait to get served. I am home at 9pm. I only have one hour left before dorms guards turn off the lights,” says Xiao, 19.

Checking the quality of 1,100 iPads a day exhausts him. But it’s hard to leave. “When my friend tried to resign, some HR manager asked him to wait for another month because he had to deal with 40,000 resignation letters.”

Hail to the Party

Last May, an accidental explosion happened at the polishing workshop for aluminum iPads, killing three workers and injuring 16. Local journalists were not allowed to report the tragedy.

Despite accidents and exhausting days, Foxconn enjoys an endless flow of workers, thanks to the Communist bureaucracy. Many workers told us they had been hired by their village’s party chief. “At every level, officials must reach labor quotas for Foxconn in order to keep public funds. My wife and I accepted a job there.

As a reward, the Party chief married us quickly, although she was from another province”. But the couple won’t stay long in Pi County. “We still dream of setting up our own little business, like selling phones in the countryside… maybe fake iPhones.”

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