Labor Unrest Hits Apple, Motorola Suppliers in China

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Carlos Barria / REUTERS

Workers on strike blocking the entrance gate of Hi-P International factory yell slogans during a protest in Shanghai

It’s almost a guarantee your iPhone was made in China. But thanks to growing economic unrest in China’s factory belt, dissatisfaction among workers has spread, leading to growing conflicts, unflinching demands and week-long protests that could begin to take their toll on electronics manufacturers like Apple and Motorola.

Something is certainly amiss at Shanghai’s industrial zone, Jinqiao. At the Hi-P International electronics plant there, hundreds of workers are going on strike in demand for fair pay and better working conditions. It certainly isn’t the newest occurrence of labor strife in the communist country: Two weeks ago, workers at the Yucheng Footwear factory in Guangdong took to the streets to make their voices heard. But Hi-P International’s clients aren’t just your everyday clients. Apple, Motorola and RIM are just some of the companies that turn to the Singaporean-owned firm for electronic components in an effort to pump out the latest devices.

(MORE: Amid Slowdown, Increasing Labor Strife in China’s Manufacturing Belt)

According to reports, about 200 workers first began striking last Wednesday after a plan was announced to relocate the plant to a suburb on the outskirts of Shanghai. “Most of us have been working at this factory for many years, so we should be properly compensated if they want to break our contracts. We work long shifts, sometimes over 20 hours. Even with a company shuttle bus, the new factory will mean an hour and a half’s traveling every day, so we won’t have any time left to rest,” one protestor told the South China Morning Post.

To make matters worse, many are refusing to sign the company’s termination policy, which states that workers would be left without compensation. Strikers have argued that they are rightfully entitled to their fair pay. It’s a story that is constantly being played out in the streets of China, as Chinese workers argue for better living and working conditions. While some consumers are more preoccupied about what Siri thinks about abortion, many Chinese environmental groups are fighting to keep their workers healthy. Foxconn, one of Apple’s main suppliers, announced substantial salary hikes totaling more than 100% of base pay in recent years, after a string of suicides left the manufacturer facing mounting public criticism.

(MORE: How Foxconn’s Million-Machine ‘Robot Kingdom’ Will Change the Face of Manufacturing)

Rising labor costs in China have begun to take their toll: stories abound about factory bosses skipping out overnight over a mounting inability to pay debts. If the protests and factories’ woes begin to extend to other suppliers crucial to major electronics companies, it could have repercussions on consumers looking for the latest gadgets. Many companies looking for factories are slowly turning to Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam as sources of cheaper labor. Some are even turning to robots. But will robots change the face of manufacturing? Someday, perhaps. But for now, someone in China still made your iPhone.

MORE: What China’s Labor Unrest Means for Its Future

Erica Ho is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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