Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn seeks to change villainous public perception

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Long thought of as a soulless megacorp that treats workers as disposable cogs in its constantly-grinding machinery, Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn — one of Apple's closest partners — granted a rare look inside its Shenzhen factory gates as it attempts to alter that perception.

The dirty, unkempt building exteriors hung with suicide prevention nets belied the "college campus"-like environment within, according to Re/code's Dawn Chmielewski. She was given a tour of the living areas at Foxconn's Longhua facility, which is home to some 140,000 workers, though she was not allowed on the factory floors.

Much of Foxconn's poor reputation in the West is the result of a highly-publicized rash of worker suicides in 2010, and the company has taken steps to ensure that anyone contemplating such action has help available. Mental health counseling is free of charge, and a 24-hour hotline — which reportedly fields around 1,000 calls each day — is open to any worker.

"Suicide is a very complex event. There's not just one thing [to fix] and there's no more suicide," company spokesperson Louis Woo told the publication. "Any large institution — you will always suffer from that statistical occurrence, no matter what you do. But that doesn't mean we don't have to do anything."

Image via Re/code

In addition to the therapeutic resources, Foxconn has diversified its geographic operations, opening more rural plants that help workers stay closer to their family and friends. Physical changes to the plant have also helped, Woo said.

"If you can stop that impulse, even for 30 seconds — the person has to struggle for 30 seconds to open the window — they will change their mind," he added.

Chmielewski was shown worker dormitories that Foxconn "sought to akin to college campuses." Up to eight workers share each room, and every workers shares "identical metal bunk beds, with thin mattress and mosquito netting on top, and a desk and storage underneath."

Image via Re/code

Other amenities include an outdoor track with bleachers, as well as five swimming pools, a movie theater, and an internet cafe where workers can play PC games. Near the cafe — which is located on "a tree-lined main street" — restaurants, cafes, banks, and shops are available.

Foxconn has also invested heavily in education, saying that around 1.5 million students have completed trade education at the on-site Foxconn University since 2007.

Apple has been using its status to lean on manufacturing partners to improve working conditions in recent years, and audits its supply chain each year. In its most recent supplier responsibility report, the company found that 92 percent of employees were at or below its 60-hour weekly cap on working hours, and that no supplier had violated Apple's prohibition against charging recruitment fees to workers.