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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My recurring iPhone factory nightmare

My iPhone 4S, iPad2 & WiFi keyboard
© L Kathryn Grace - All rights reserved
Ever since I read this Business Insider article in January, Your iPhone Was Built, In Part, By 13 Year-Olds Working 16 Hours A Day For 70 Cents An Hour, I have had a recurring nightmare.

It is dark when I rise from my narrow mattress. The lone bulb in our windowless room is still out, but the hallway light, always on, shines through the open doorway.

I am thirteen years old. My cot on the top bunk is so close to the ceiling that I cannot sit upright to grab my uniform from its hanger, a wire on a hook I thumb-screwed into the ceiling.

Carefully, so as not to waken the other girls sleeping on the top tier, I crawl across the foot of their bunks to the one butting against the doorway.

I shimmy silently down the post at the foot of the bunk, careful not to bump my head against the door jam. Our five bunk beds, each three tiers high, fill this little twelve foot by twelve foot room. There is no room for a door to open and close, so there is no door, only the doorway, through which each of us must crawl to get to our mattress, our only personal space in this massive tower, Building 54, we call home.

I run down the hall fast as I can to the restroom and shower quickly, scrubbing my skin hard. I hope that scrubbing will keep me from getting the nerve sickness others get from handling the chemicals we use to shine the tiny glass rectangles we polish all day long, every single day. I scrub my face and hands extra hard, trying to peel off any tiny bits of the chemicals.

I need this job. When my hands start shaking, the bosses will throw me out on the street. I will not have money to send home to my parents and grandparents for food and seed to plant the crops. I will not have a place to live. I will have to sell my body.

I finish my shower and dress in less than five minutes. Already, the showers are full of girls, rushing as I am. We are hungry. We must get to the cafeteria before it runs out of food and they lock the doors. 

Last night, I had to work later than usual. The cafeteria was closed when I got off work. My stomach aches with the hunger, but I am used to that. I want food because on the days I eat, I work faster. The bosses don't scream at me for making mistakes or going too slow on the days I get to eat before work.

Today I am lucky. I have to wait in line only thirty minutes before I reach the cafeteria door. I will eat this morning.

At 6:00 am, when the work bell rings, I am ready, at my station. I keep my head down, polishing the little glasses, one after another after another.

One of the bosses told me these glasses are the windows into iPhones. I don't know what an iPhone is. I have never seen one. The boss saw one once. He said it is magical. Bright lights in little squares. Touch one and you can talk to someone far away, as far away as America, where everyone has a magical iPhone. Touch another bright light and you can see a map that tells you where you are now and how to go somewhere else. I don't know how to imagine this map. Touch another light, and all the music that was ever played anywhere in the world pops up. You can choose what to listen to. I do not know how I would choose from all the music ever played anywhere in the world.

While I work, I try to concentrate on this glass that I am polishing right now. I try not to daydream about  music and maps and places to eat that have every food you can imagine. That is another thing the boss has seen on the magical iPhone.

The bell rings and we all stop and rush to the rest rooms. If I am quick enough, I will get there in time to go, but today others are ahead of me. I have learned to hold my water. I don't drink much anyway, just so I won't have to go if my shift is too long or the restroom lines too long. Lately, I feel a burning sensation every time I go, so I try to drink less so I have to go less.

I rush back to my station, standing straight as a stick and wait for the bell to ring, so I can start my work again. My hands are sore. My legs are swollen and ache. I will not complain. I do not want to be thrown into the street. I am grateful for this job. Grateful for the meager wages I send home to my family so they will have something to eat.

At 6:00 pm the bell rings. We all rush to the door. I am too slow to get out the door quickly. My feet do not want to carry me along the walkway. I hug the wall and walk slowly. Many of us hug the wall, as far as I can see in front, as far as I can see behind me.

I may not get to the cafeteria in time for supper, but I will try. I am small. I take a deep breath. Another, and push myself from the wall. I run between people, apologizing as I rush, too hungry to care much. Just in time! I reach the end of the cafeteria line two yards in front of the big yellow marker that means no more people will be fed tonight. I turn and look behind me. The hallway is packed as far as I can see. None of those people will eat tonight. I am a lucky one.

I get my tray and sit in a corner on the floor to eat. All of the tables are full. I toss the rice into my mouth as fast as I can swallow. In just a moment, the bell will ring. We have three more hours to work tonight.

Back on the line, my feet shoot pains up my legs. My arms feel like wooden dowels. My hands are thick and do not want to move any more. I polish and polish and polish, willing my hands to hold the little glass rectangles carefully, not to slip and drop them. The bosses walk behind us, screaming at us to hurry, hurry, hurry. Faster! Faster! Faster! They say we are lazy.

At 9 pm, the bell rings. No one rushes out the door this time. My feet feel like lead. I shuffle down the endless hallways, find a restroom with a line not so long and wait my turn. It hurts like knives to pee. I must drink less water tomorrow so I will not have to hold it so hard while I work.

At first, I think I will have to crawl under the bottom bunk and sleep on the floor. My hands will not grip the post to pull me up through the narrow doorway and onto the top bunk. Girls behind me are impatient. I try one more time. Success! I drag myself up the post, crawl across the other bunks to my mattress, carefully remove my uniform and hang it on the wire hanger from the ceiling hook.

I ache everywhere. I am cold. I am so tired. Glass rectangles spin past me again and again and again. I must sleep. Must sleep. Must. Sleep. Must.


This is the nightmare that haunts me since I read Henry Blodgett's article on January 15. I own an iPhone. My partner and I own two iPads. My dream computer is a Mac Pro, that pencil thin one that fits in a manila envelope.

I work every day on one of two Dell computers we own, which were also made in China, so I understand.

How do I make peace with this? In small ways for now. I signed and shared this SumOfUs petition to Apple telling them to Make the iPhone5 Ethically. Tomorrow, if I can find the people who are hand carrying it to Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, I will travel there and help deliver it to the annual shareholder meeting.

I'll also continue to educate myself about the factories in China and elsewhere and report on what I've learned. My voice is a small one, but I will be silent about this no longer.

We make peace in a million small ways every day.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.


kario said...

I feel the same way. We are a family with many Apple devices, although I suspect that most of the things in our house that are electronic were made in a similar fashion. It is so tricky when a company produces something useful that we want but does it in a way we don't like. I have the same problem with Google and their horrid financial support of groups that espouse bigotry and hatred, so I switched my search engine to Bing and dropped my gmail account, but the thought of moving my 6+-year-old blog from Blogger scares me because I know I'll lose readers. What to do? I guess just keep on making our wishes known loudly - we want fairness, equality, and peace. You go, girl!

Dee said...

Dear Kathryn Grace,
I'm typing this on an Apple keyboard, using an Apple mouse, looking at an Apple computer. What's holding me back from protesting? I marched and protested when I was young. Why should being 75 make a difference? I need to follow your example and get involved. Thank you for helping me see that I must begin again to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.


Kathryn Grace said...

Kario, I would love to hear more about your decision to switch from Google's search engine to Microsoft's Bing, especially in light of Google's new (not-so-private) privacy agreement beginning March 1.

Dee, I was unable to make the 6:40 am train that would have, with another train and two bus rides, put me at Apple's headquarters at 9:00 for the rally, so I must rely on what I can do from here. Sometimes the walking we do is with our fingers on our sweat-shop-made keyboards.

Deb Shucka said...

I'll never look at my Mac products the same again. My heart hurts.

Sharon said...

I read this, and haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Every time I use my android, I think about it, because they're all probably built in similar fashion. What to do? There seems only one answer... don't participate in supporting such labor practices. It seems a simple response, but how realistic? Will it contribute to a solution? Ultimately, I think if at least 20% of current users refused to continue using the iPhone until Apple changed practices... and if future users knew this truth and refused, I think yes, it could contribute to a solution. But will 20 % rise to the challenge? Will I? I'm still struggling with it.

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