‘There’s a joke among executives whose livelihoods depend on Foxconn: In 20 years, there will be only two companies. Everything will be made by Foxconn and sold by Wal-Mart.’September 13th, 2010
As I read this breathtaking account of Foxconn and its founder, Terry Gou, it kept reminding me of Hunter S. Thompson’s drug addled evening at the Circus-Circus casino in Las Vegas. Here’s an excerpt from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to help put you into the right frame of mind to read about Gou’s empire and the bizzaro world of electronic device manufacturing in China:
The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the Sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos…but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County-Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space. Right above the gambling tables the Forty Flying Carazito Brothers are doing a high-wire trapeze act, along with four muzzled Wolverines and the Six Nymphet Sisters from San Diego…so you’re down on the main floor playing blackjack, and the stakes are getting high when suddenly you chance to look up, and there, right smack above your head is a half-naked fourteen-year-old girl being chased through the air by a snarling wolverine, which is suddenly locked in a death battle with two silver-painted Polacks who come swinging down from opposite balconies and meet in mid-air on the wolverine’s neck…both Polacks seize the animal as they fall straight down towards the crap tables—but they bounce off the net; they separate and spring back up towards the roof in three different directions, and just as they’re about to fall again they are grabbed out of the air by three Korean Kittens and trapezed off to one of the balconies.
This madness goes on and on, but nobody seems to notice. The gambling action runs twenty-four hours a day on the main floor, and the circus never ends. Meanwhile, on all the upstairs balconies, the customers are being hustled by every conceivable kind of bizarre shuck. All kinds of funhouse-type booths. Shoot the pasties off the nipples of a ten-foot bull-dyke and win a cotton-candy goat. Stand in front of this fantastic machine, my friend, and for just 99¢ your likeness will appear, two hundred feet tall, on a screen above downtown Las Vegas. Ninety-nine cents more for a voice message. “Say whatever you want, fella. They’ll hear you, don’t worry about that. Remember you’ll be two hundred feet tall.”
Jesus Christ. I could see myself lying in bed in the Mint Hotel, half—asleep and staring idly out the window, when suddenly a vicious nazi drunkard appears two hundred feet tall in the midnight sky, screaming gibberish at the world: “Woodstock Über Alles!”
We will close the drapes tonight. A thing like that could send a drug person careening around the room like a ping-pong ball. Hallucinations are bad enough. But after a while you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing.
But nobody can handle that other trip—the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into the Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted.
There. Now you’re ready for a look inside Foxconn, which, by the way, is a great place to work, by Chinese standards.
And don’t miss the gallery image of the nets placed outside company buildings to catch workers who try to leap to their deaths.
On a crushingly hot mid-August day at Foxconn’s Longhua factory campus in Shenzhen—where a dutiful army of 300,000 employees eats, sleeps, and churns out iPhones, Sony (SNE) PlayStations, and Dell (DELL) computers—workers indulged in a rare moment of celebration. First, there was a parade, an Alice in Wonderland spectacle of floats, blaring vuvuzelas, and workers dressed up as Victorian ladies, geishas, cheerleaders, and Spider-Men. This was followed by a two-hour rally inside a vast sports stadium featuring acrobats, musical performances, fireworks, and life-affirming testimonials punctuated by chants of “treasure your life” and “care for each other to build a wonderful future.”
It was hardly a spontaneous outpouring. Rather, it was a joint production of employee unions and management at Hon Hai Precision Industry, the flagship of Foxconn Technology Group, as part of an effort to mend the collective psyche of a Chinese workforce that numbers more than 920,000 across more than 20 mainland factories. The need to do so became apparent after 11 Foxconn employees committed suicide earlier this year, most of them by leaping from company-owned high-rise dormitories.
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