The Future Of Foxconn: The Birds
At first I thought the birds in the trees at the Foxconn?s largest plant in Shenzhen, China were fake. They sang so sweetly that I was sure my hosts had planted speakers for my benefit ? a sort of Potemkin aviary high in the branches.
The plant, called Foxconn City, is one of Foxconn?s 26 major and minor factories around the world. Built by founder Terry Gou in 1974, the City was the first of the many sprawling Foxconn complexes and covers three square kilometers. It is home to over 400,000 workers, many of whom live in university-style dorms on the Foxconn campus. It is reported to be China?s largest private employer and holds a place in the Western mind as the home to a new form of economic slavery, an eternal boogeyman that haunts the fever dreams of anti-techophiles. It?s also a place where thousands of young employees ? some completing their degrees while they work through school, others simply trying to escape the grinding poverty of their home districts, and still others hoping for a leg up in China?s wild economy ? come to assemble the items that surround us. Here they make our PCs, our MP3 players, our routers. Here they make our laptops, our cellphones, and our cameras.
In the past year, only one other journalist has been allowed past Foxconn?s gates to see the factory, which is why I thought they had brought the birds (or at least fake Bose birds) out for my benefit. What better allegory for the doings of a secretive, destructive force for evil than fake birds in fake trees?
?Are those real,? I asked my guide, a PR representative from Burson-Marsteller hired to smooth over Foxconn?s image in the West.
?What?? she asked.
?Those birds, are they real?? The moment I said it I noticed one flit from one branch to another. They were real.
Having established that there was no ruse, no trickery, I began to see Foxconn City for what it really was: a place that made things. It was, by any standard, amazingly large. Wide avenues ran the length and breadth of the factory and along