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Tens of thousands of Chinese live at the mercy of Apple's factories - and they don't even work there

Business Insider | May 15, 2018, 10.01PM IST

AppleFactoryiPhone Foxconn China (39 of 44)

Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Life near Apple's iPhone factories isn't any easier if you decide not to work at the factory.

  • Half of the world's iPhones are made at a sprawling factory complex in Zhengzhou, China that employs as many as 350,000 people and has spawned a mini city residents call "iPhone City."
  • Thousands of residents' livelihoods rely on the success of Apple and Foxconn, though they don't even work at the companies.
  • We spent the day with a 31-year-old woman whose entire life has been shaped by Foxconn and Apple, having worked at the Foxconn's Shenzhen factory in her 20s and then moved to Zhengzhou to open her own business catering to factory workers.
  • She told us that the lives of ex-factory workers like herself, who open businesses when they save enough money, is often harder than that of the factory workers. Her life is better now than when she was growing up, but she sees little opportunity to escape the grinding lifestyle she currently lives.

Liu Fei, a 31-year-old Chinese woman, lives just outside the gates of the biggest iPhone factory in the world, the Foxconn Zhengzhou Science Park.

Liu's livelihood depends on the factory's prosperity - and, in effect, Apple's - despite the fact that neither the factory nor Apple will ever pay her a cent.

The factory, run by the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, employs about 350,000 people during the busy summer months before the fall release of a new iPhone. At its peak, the factory produces 500,000 phones a day or up to 350 a minute - about half of the world's iPhones. More often, it has a workforce of about half that, or less.

Though the factory is nominally located in Zhengzhou, a city of 9.5 million people, the factory is actually more than 20 miles outside downtown, separated by freeways, suburbs, and dirt scrublands.In the years since the factory opened, an entire city has sprouted up to serve Foxconn's workforce.

foxconn workers quote card

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

A decade ago, the area had only dirt and fields of corn and wheat. In 2010, the government bought out local farmers, and the factory was up and running within the year.

Much of this newly sprouted city, which residents and factory workers have dubbed "iPhone City," sits in the alleyways below the 10 or 12-story dormitory buildings, where workers live eight to a room.

Below, a migrating workforce of entrepreneurs and vendors has set up shop below to make a living cooking street food, offering massages, or selling socks or other knicknacks.

Most of the vendors in iPhone City, Liu said, are former factory workers like herself. Liu is one of the luckiest. She has a large restaurant in a makeshift district just outside the factory's gate. It's relatively clean and spacious. It could probably serve 40 or 50 people during breakfast or dinner, when day shift and night shift workers converge before or after their shift.

"We don't make special food here. We just make whatever is cheap and will fill the workers up," Liu, whose name has been changed to protect her identity and business, told Business Insider on a recent afternoon that we spent in the city.

Liu's entire life has been shaped by an American company whose products she will likely never own. Here's how:

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