NYU Student Goes Undercover at Pegatron Factory, Offers Inside Look at iPhone Production

New York University graduate student Dejian Zeng spent last summer working in a Pegatron factory manufacturing the iPhone 6s and 7 as part of a summer project, where he got a first hand look at what factory life is like for a worker in China.

Zeng did a extensive, detailed interview with Business Insider, where he shared his experience and offered up an inside glimpse at how factories like Pegatron work.


When he first arrived at the factory, Zeng's job was in final assembly. His sole task was to put a sticker on the back of the iPhone 6s and add a screw, over and over again, a process that he said was "very boring."

Employees at Pegatron are not allowed to bring in electronic devices, so there's no entertainment like music. Strict security measures are in place, including metal detectors, preventing outside devices from entering the factory.

While Zeng started out assembling the iPhone 6s, the factory switched over to the iPhone 7 in August ahead of its September launch, providing an interesting look at how security ramps up when an unreleased device is being manufactured.

According to Zeng, once the iPhone 7 was in trial production, the sensitivity of the metal detectors was ramped up, with no metal, including the metal of underwire bras, allowed through. Two security checks were also required, and new assembly line infrastructure had to be built. Apple employees were also on hand to keep an eye out for issues.

When we were producing the iPhone 7, they have Apple staff there every single day to monitor the process because it's a new product they want to see if there are new problems.

The management of the factory becomes very, very careful. It needs to be very, very clean. All the case holders need to be in the exact position of where they should be. The process changed a lot because it used to be just an assembly line. They made it a clean room, like they want to keep the dust out.

Zeng earned the equivalent of $450 for a month of work, including overtime pay, for working up to 12 hours per day. Because of unpaid breaks, he was only paid for 10.5 hours. He was also provided with housing in a dorm with multiple other employees, but he had to pay for meals. At $450 per month, Zeng did not earn anywhere near enough to purchase one of the devices he was assembling, and he said most of his coworkers used Chinese smartphones from Oppo or similar brands rather than an iPhone.

Still, he said some factory workers considered producing the unreleased iPhone "as a very cool thing," and everyone knew they were working on an upcoming device. Factory jobs, he said, weren't hated, but weren't liked, and turnover rates were "very high." "It's very normal for workers to leave after two weeks or a month," he said.

We just consider it a job that can give us money. Nobody enjoys the process because the purpose of getting to work is waiting to get out.

The only thing that we're thinking about is really money, money, money. I need to get some money from my family, I need to support my life, support my kids.

On the subject of safety training, Zeng said Pegatron was "very careful" and the training was thorough. Workers only get two days of training, though, with most of the focus on safety, and they're also required to download a special app designed by Apple that includes additional training documents and information on overtime. Pegatron, he said, did seem to keep an eye out for safety issues and other problems like underage workers.

According to an Apple spokesperson that spoke to Business Insider, Apple has employees on the ground at the Pegatron facility every day and performs regular audits to make sure employees aren't working more than 60 hours. Apple also pointed out that wages at Pegatron have increased 50 percent over the last five years and are higher than the Shanghai minimum wage.

Zeng, who originally visited the factory in anticipation of a worker strike due to reduced wages and the elimination of bonuses, says his experience at the factory has affirmed that his plan for a career in human rights advocacy is the right choice.

Zeng's full interview with Business Insider, which goes into much more detail on working conditions, employee routines, living quarters, food, overtime pay, safety procedures, and more, is well worth checking out.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

Z400Racer37 Avatar
51 months ago
What a loser. This guy kicks back in his cushy middle class lifestyle, and he has the NERVE to judge what other people CHOOSE to do for a living?? How much money per month does he think that those workers were making on the farm? Huh? How productive were they there? Living in absolute poverty ridden destitution? And he has the nerve to criticize them, because he finds their work "very boring"??? And now he wants to get involved with "human rights advocacy"???

Let me guess: Shot in the dark. He wants these companies to pay their workers more. And when they're not willing or able to pay more, he'll tell the government to install a minimum wage, and price these kids out of a job. He'll FORCE them to NOT work at the rate that they thought was good for them; the rate they agreed to when they traveled from home to get the job in the first place.

These kids *think* that they'll be better off making money, instead of starving in rural China, but ohh noooo here comes the NYU intellectual to tell him alllll about how to live his life the way the intellectuals think he should live it, or else. Good think he was there to FORCE his idiotic opinions on others.

And by the way, that's about 40% of what I make in the U.S., I have all of Apples latest products, I pay my rent on time, and I save money, and their cost of living isn't nearly as high.

Maybe this kid should mind his business and shut up, instead of advocating for the violation of the rights that he claims to want to uphold. You don't have a RIGHT to INITIATE FORCE against anyone for ANY reason. Therefore, you don't have a right to tell people BY FORCE that they can't take a job, or that they can only take it under the terms that YOU prefer. Any claim to such a right is an absurd contradiction.
Score: 75 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Nunyabinez Avatar
51 months ago
Shocking news story: Grad Student From Top University Didn't Enjoy Assembling iPhones in a Factory. Film at 11:00
Score: 69 Votes (Like | Disagree)
SBlue1 Avatar
51 months ago
Wait, the factory workers could not afford to buy the iPhone? What a shame! Let me ask at www.ferrari-rumors.com (http://www.ferrari-rumors.com) if the Ferrari workers all own Ferraris.
Score: 66 Votes (Like | Disagree)
barkomatic Avatar
51 months ago
Factory work everywhere is boring and people don't like to do it in general--nothing new there. If the company is looking out for underage workers and is paying a wage higher than the average in the area--what are the human rights violations?
Score: 48 Votes (Like | Disagree)
bobdobalina Avatar
51 months ago
How about making the iPhone 8 $100 more costly, and using the money to pay for ethical manufacture instead of new features. Call it the "Human Rights" edition.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
c0ppo Avatar
51 months ago
How about our clothes? Nike? Adidas? Dolce?

Everything is made that way. E V E R Y T H I N G!
And this post was not meant to defend Apple, I would never do that. It was meant to say that everyone does it. And if Apple would stop, then their prices go up, and competition destroys them. But if everyone who is saddened by this video just stops purchasing clothes, electronics, etc. -> then something would change.

But how would anyone manage to do that?
By all means, I am all for higher prices if it means better working conditions and a higher pay to any human being. But we have to change it all, not just Apple, or just IT sector. I do mean ALL!
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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