Dying for an iPhone: The Lives of Chinese Workers

8 March 2016

On Tuesday 16th February Junior Research Fellow Jenny Chan delivered the Social Sciences Seminar, Dying for an iPhone: The Lives of Chinese Workers; an in-depth study of the most powerful electronics contractor and the lives of its 1.4 million workers.

During 2010, 18 workers attempted suicide at Taiwanese-owned Foxconn Technology Group’s Chinese facilities, where Apple and other high profile branded products are produced and assembled. They ranged in age from 17 to 25 – the prime of youth. Fourteen died, while four survived with crippling injuries. What had driven the young Chinese workers to commit the desperate act? What light did they cast on China’s much touted economic transformation in the era of export-oriented growth? The mystery that our investigation seeks to explore is not only the “inside story” of Foxconn; it is also the nature of global capitalism embodying with specific relationship between Foxconn and its buyers, the largest and richest being Apple, as well as that between Foxconn and the Chinese state. These are the relationships that shape conditions on the factory floor and ultimately workers’ lives. An in-depth study of the most powerful electronics contractor and the lives of its 1.4 million workers enable us to draw out the deep contradictions among labor, capital, and the Chinese state in global IT production.

Jenny Chan is a Departmental Lecturer in Sociology and China Studies at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford.

Watch the seminar.