At the center is Foxconn City and we pull in at dawn, just in time for first light to reveal mind-blowing scale of the place.
As China's largest exporter, only the government employs more people than Foxconn, and the company earns more revenue than their next 10 competitors combined. Apple may be their most famous customer, but Foxconn also churns out products for Sony, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Motorola, Toshiba and other major brands, keeping the details of each production line wrapped in total secrecy.
In order to make gadgets like the Xbox, the PlayStation and the Amazon Kindle this campus employs 235,000 people, roughly the population of Orlando, Fla.
And everywhere you look, on every factory and dormitory, in every stairwell and atrium, are suicide nets.
They went up during a three-month span in the spring of 2010, when nine Foxconn workers jumped to their deaths. A total of 18 Foxconn employees took their own lives, or tried to, in recent years and given the company's massive size, it is a suicide rate well below China's national average. But when people started jumping in a cluster, Woo tells me that Tim Cook rallied a team of psychiatric experts for advice. They suggested nets, on the chance it might save impulsive jumpers.
Foxconn also opened a counseling center around this time and there are a few people scattered in the waiting area when I visit. A counselor tells me that these days they are more likely to deal with lost IDs than bouts of depression. "So why did the horror happen?" I ask. "There are many reasons," she says. "We had many scholars here doing research. Of course some (suicide) has to do with the management. But they had more to do with the new generation of migrant workers from the rural areas, their state of mind and how they cope with society. Also it's hard to make friends here."
And then came the explosions. Last year, two blasts at two separate iPad factories injured 77, and four died when combustible dust exploded as iPads were being polished.
"A certain level of the aluminum dust was too high and this accident happened," Woo tells me. "We learned a lot from it, so we have changed a lot of processes. So now if you have a chance to go back and see it, you would not see any human being at all. We replaced the enclosure part with robots."
Apple Addresses Working Conditions in Its Supplier's Factories
But Foxconn wasn't Apple's only problem. The company says they stopped a supplier named Wintek from using a toxic chemical to clean iPhone screens after 137 workers were injured.
And labor rights groups both in and out of China have accused Apple of looking the other way while factories in its massive supply chain allegedly force overtime, ignore health and safety issues and occasionally exploit underage workers.