Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory


UPDATE: This American Life has retracted "MR. DAISEY AND THE APPLE FACTORY" because the segment "contained significant fabrications," writes show host Ira Glass.

When Apple fanboy Mike Daisey saw photos from someone's iPhone that were ostensibly from inside Foxconn and not wiped before shipment, he became deeply curious about the goings on in the factory that makes a lot of our high-tech crap. So he went to Shenzhen, stood outside the plant, and talked to the workers. His story of their stories stirred up quite a bit of controversy last year and ultimately made for a wonderful and moving spoken word performance at New York's Public Theater. (Nightly shows of "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs begin again on January 31.) And if you're not in NYC, Mike's performance was excerpted on This American Life earlier this month. From an email Mike sent over the weekend:

 Sites Default Files Episodes 454 Lg
In its first week the episode was the most downloaded in THIS AMERICAN LIFE's history. The internet exploded, and the story went everywhere—I received over a thousand emails in just a few days; the response was overwhelming.

That same week news broke that hundreds of Foxconn workers had a stand-off that lasted two days, where they were all threatening mass suicide by throwing themselves off the roof of the plant over their working conditions.

This is at Foxconn, a company which Apple's own 2011 Supplier Responsibility Report said was completely up to code, and which Apple applauded for their efforts. This is the company about which Steve Jobs said the employees enjoyed a virtual paradise of movie theaters, swimming pools, and luxury.

A week after our show was broadcast, Apple made an abrupt announcement. After years of stonewalling and silence, they released the full list of their suppliers, and agreed to outside, independent monitoring of working conditions in the factories they use. It is not everything, but it is a small step down the right road.

"Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory"


    1. I feel like it’s futile to mention that those are for workers committing suicide by jumping out of dormitories, but I get the feeling you knew that anyway and still thought that was funny.

      1. It’s also futile to mention that foxconn workers have a suicide rate below the US college average, and way way below the rates common in their cities. China’s overall suicide rate is 22/100,000/yr, so for a company with a million employees, you’d expect 222 suicides per year – anything less than that and they are saving lives.

        1. Plus they’ve been pro-active in reducing the number of work-related suicides. In addition to the nets and making people sign I-will-not-kill-myself contracts, FoxConn also stopped paying the families of workers who jumped to their deaths compensation for their loss. I guess that took some of the incentive away.

        2. Weird that it’s such a problem that they had to install nets on those dormitories.  Maybe if one U.S. college/city had repeated problems with suicides committed in the exact same way, at the exact same places, by people doing the exact same jobs, for the exact same company, it would raise some concerns? It almost leads one to believe that it’s exclusively the hopelessness, and misery of their work situation that leads them to such actions…..

          But, that has little to do with my comment:

          Was there a point you were trying to make about the poor taste of the “joke”, or did I miss it?

          1. Making jokes is one of many coping mechanism that humans have.  If you object to jokes in “poor taste,” then before long there are very few jokes left to make.  In fact even your avatar and name comes from a character centered around a joke that would be considered to be in poor taste by a large portion of our population.  Lilly white Steve Martin saying, “I was born a poor black child…” yes, it’s funny, it’s also “in poor taste” by some standards.  Teller’s joke falls in the same category.  I thought it was funny.

          2. No, I wasn’t trying to make a point about the joke.  I was pointing out that there’s no evidence that suicide rates are above-average at Foxconn, but that won’t change people’s minds. I think the suicide nets were 50% PR move (in a reaction to this) and 50% an attempt to stop copycats…  but I’d really love to see the numbers on this.

            Cornell university, with a similar age demographic as Foxconn & also on-campus dorms, had a spate of 6 suicides in 6 months, all in the same area.

            Ok, hypothetical question: If Cornell had 600 suicides/year, do you think there would be more, less, or equal coverage to Foxconn? I lied; it’s not hypothetical. Foxconn has 50x the people of Cornell, so it’s a valid comparison. Yet, Foxconn is in the news, and Cornell, with its 600 suicides/year equivalent is not so much.

          3. apologies for my 6:38 post — my math is totally opposite! It would be foxconn that averaged 600 suicides per year to make an equivalency … ah, the joys of unexpectedly meeting with friends mid-post :-)

          4. Morcheeba,
            I love that you don’t even realize that you’re posting about the needs for suicide nets at a company’s dormitories.  You’re apparently missing the whole point and context of the suicides here.  

            Your comparison is completely incoherent.  Did Cornell have dozens of people throwing themselves off their dormitories?  

        3. Is it futile to mention that these numbers are just the “reported” numbers and that we don’t really know what is going on here?  If this were an upstanding company like Apply reporting these numbers, then I’d be more likely to take them at face value, but given the measures taken to discourage jumpers (eg- a net and no-kill contracts), this leads me to believe that these numbers are not accurate.

          1. If you object to jokes in “poor taste,” then before long there are very few jokes left to make.

            Not really, they just need to be clever and *funny*, often that’s the difference between somebody being funny, and somebody perhaps not thinking it through and coming off thoughtless.

            I suppose to some there’s no distinguishing between fair targets, low hanging fruit, and kicking somebody when they’re down.

          2. I suppose to some there’s no distinguishing between fair targets, low hanging fruit, and kicking somebody when they’re down.

            At the risk of making Teller’s humor appear even more crass and lowbrow, I too thought it was grimly funny.  I could cry instead, but then my mascara might run.

          3. At the risk of making Teller’s humor appear even more crass and lowbrow, I too thought it was grimly funny.  I could cry instead, but then my mascara might run.

            I think there’s some outakes of Tracy Morgan, and Michael Richards on off nights that you might like. I hear Sam Kinison was a riot too.  Anybody got any good holocaust jokes?

            As for all your “likes” I guess that explains Dane Cook…

          4. At the risk of making Teller’s humor appear even more crass and lowbrow, I too thought it was grimly funny.  I could cry instead, but then my mascara might run.

            Maybe you should listen to the story or read about it some.  You may not find it so funny.  Not to say that mocking people’s misery or comedy at the expense of those with little power isn’t just hilarious, as opposed to juvenile, mean, easy, boorish, groan-worthy.  #lowhanginfruit

        4. No, your math was totally off from the beginning because Foxconn has 1m employees worldwide, not just in China.

  1. Just to be clear: Daisey’s show, and the NPR report, mention multiple times that these factories produce almost everything you buy, from iPhones, to Dell Computers, to Xboxes, to Android phones, to children’s toys, to clothes — even food.

    Indeed, Apple has high standards and codes of conduct to try to improve things.

    Be that as it may, the conditions are still surprising, and perhaps horrifying. China’s official policies for workers are probably worse than prison inmates in many countries, and many factories are very willing to ignore them if it means they can get work done faster and make more money.

  2.     Never played chinese dodgeball?? 
    Didn’t The Moth have him do a rendition?  The guy’s a great public speaker.

    1. The TAL show might even have been recorded at the Moth.  I’ve heard several TAL segments recorded there.

  3. Make no mistake.  Every corporate executive in the U.S. humps his pillow every night fantasizing about every American he employs working under exactly these same conditions.

    1. Yeah exactly.  While China is authoritarian, Shenzhen is a pure neoliberal wet dream:  Virtually no union power, little rules, little regulations, and a labor force completely and totally controlled by business.  Exactly what our elite business classes would love for the rest of the World.

  4. For the millionth time this is not just Apple but pretty much every electronics manufacturers. That just doesn’t generate the interest and fake outrage of acting likes its just Apple.

      1. From BB’s “reporting” one would think it WAS just Apple. Maltreatment of workers is never okay. But, neither is blithely ignoring the long list of other multinational manufacturers Foxconn does work for. The BB grudge is old and making BB look foolish.

        1. As already pointed out by another user above, Daisey clearly points out that there are not “just Apple” products made there.  That said, the whole motivation for his trip and story was his intense, obsessive *Apple* fanboi-ism.  Listen to the story….

        2. It’s the burden of the front runner. When Nike was put on the spot in the 90s, the same factories churned out stuff for Adidas et al. If Dell was the most influential brand, it’d be them that was receiving all the attention. This is merely the strategy of taking on playground bullies. Punch the biggest one in the nose and the rest will take notice.

          And I hardly think BB has a “grudge”. Read any of Xeni’s iPhone reviews.

  5. Life is suffering. We in America have gone soft, because we haven’t had to suffer for a while. We may eventually get our chance to suffer again.

    1. Your inability to see imbalances imposed by those in power, just so they can be somewhat richer than they already are, is sad.

  6. Where can I find the original 4 iphone photos that Mr. Daisey refers to that started all of this?  I want to see them.

        1. Agh, you’re right, the ones he describes are of  wooden pallets, a conveyer belt and a woman who doesn’t know her photo is being taken.

  7. “Animals”-  Isn’t that what the CEO of the parent company of Foxconn called his 1,000,000 employees?

    I look now at my iMac, iPhone, Xbox, PC’s, routers, modems, flat screens…
    and Think Different. 

    I think – what have I become a part of?  Was I misled, were these companies lied to, did I/they deep down know that this kind of slave labor still existed and ignored it?

    Supply – Demand – Humanity

    1. “Hon Hai [Foxconn’s parent company] has a workforce of over one million and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.” – Terry Gou

      But hey, he apologized. Well actually he didn’t. His company did. And it only apologized to those “who were offended.” They must be taking PR lessons from mouthy North American racists.

  8. I couldn’t really stomach the second act in the This American Life episode. After fact checking Daisey’s accuracy they still tried to make the point that factories like this improve the lives of Chinese workers.
    It felt insincere for This American Life to say when you think that just doing a little better, like having less than 16 hour work days and protection from dangerous chemicals, could drastically improve their lives.

    1. Really?  “Insincere” for journalists to look at both sides of the issue?

      I tend to agree with you on human rights but let’s be realistic.  If it weren’t for Foxconn the factory workers would be essentially slaves working on Chinese government farms…with 16 hour workdays and lots of hazardous chemicals.  Why do you think people move to the cities and get jobs at these manufacturers in the first place?  They do it because it’s their best option.  And I’d like them to have a better option too, but I can’t honestly argue that millions of Chinese factory workers took these jobs against their own best interests.  Frankly I’d like journalists to tell me more about why these people are taking these jobs.

      I’m glad TAL IS talking about both sides.  Giving only one perspective isn’t much different from propaganda.  If I’m going to complain about Fox doing it I can’t urge NPR to do the same exact thing.  And again, I agree that it would be great to treat the employees better than they are being treated.  Admitting there is more than one perspective on an issue is not the same as advocating the status quo.

      1. That’s a good point, it was helpful to learn why people take jobs here and knowing China’s suicide rate was abnormally high.
        The bleeding-heart in me took it as excusatory, when they were just being journalists.

        1. The bleeding-heart in me took it as excusatory, when they were just being journalists.

          I certainly can’t pretend that never happens to me.  =D  Sorry if I ranted at you.

      2. Nitpick: This American Life has nothing to do with NPR. NPR does not produce or fund This American Life. TAL is produced by Public Radio International. 

        1. Good call on production but you’re also stretching it a little.  NPR licenses and broadcasts TAL.  When I catch TAL on the radio it’s on an NPR affiliate.

        2. Most of their funding comes from the licensing fees that NPR affiliate stations pay in order to air the show. Most shows you hear on NPR stations are not produced directly by NPR – they’re produced by PRI, APM, or just local affiliates – but since they aren’t broadcast anywhere else and get most of their funding from NPR, they are de facto NPR shows.

  9. It’s a little disconcerting how much more people seem to be concerned with protecting Apple’s reputation (but… but… Microsft does it too!!) than with protecting the basic human rights of the people slaving away in these factories.

    1. It’s not concern for protecting Apple; people want the story to be factually correct. It doesn’t help anyone if only Apple is targeted. Surely it gives everyone else a false sense of moral certainty and smugness that **their** electronics are produced by slave labour.

  10. I saw this in Seattle. I cannot exhort you strongly enough to attend. It’s a firestorm of a performance, something that crosses the line between biography, sermon, and stand-up. Go.

  11. Today I decided I was going to buy a new pair of headphones. Not because I needed them, but just so I could use them with a new MP3 player I was also planning to buy. I stepped into the store, found the aisle and then I saw them. I was *this* close to actually giving them to the cashier, and then I stopped. And I remembered what I learned about stuff made in “China”.
    I first heard about Mike Daisey last October, almost by chance. I knew about the poor conditions, I knew about the “occasional accidents,” like that story back in 2005 when someone learned that people were sleeping in their workplace, like, actually sleeping on the desk they used to build iPods, the same iPod I was holding in my hand while reading that news. Then Apple came with a statement saying the bug was fixed and my burden just flew away. I promised myself never, ever to look at those reports, convincing myself that they were all “unconfirmed” and “too bad to be true.” In my mind I convinced myself that “someone was throwing fake shit at Apple, because they are cool and they care”… or any other company for that matter.
    I’m very sensitive to these subjects and I’ll never go back again. It’s like Mr. Daisey took my hand and helped me be aware, more aware than before. To be aware, in my case, means to always remember what I know. And it would be stupid to go buy some headphones, with that knowledge in my mind.

    Should I also add that electronics is my Slurm… and we all know where Slurm comes from.

    1. @google-fa8ea1df53b793397aa3906d5892c565:disqus   I signed it, monica.  Every little bit helps.

      @twitter-305116058:disqus Dan, the SOPA/PIPA protests started with… writing.

      Cynical inaction is nothing more than intellectual laziness.

      1. Also signed.  It’s not just intellectual laziness, BTW.  It’s also just regular laziness and a complete lack of empathy gets people to write things like that.  Most of them are also just idiots.
        I’ve known plenty of people that scoff because I take the time to write to my senators and representatives.  I can usually pressure them into admitting that they are just too lazy and don’t give a crap about anyone but themselves, but it takes a bit.  Not that I didn’t know it already, but I like them to at least have the guts to admit it.

  12. …so what’s the solution? In this country, worker’s rights came about not because of change forced from outside, but because the workers themselves forced it. Is that what has to happen in China too?

    Say we had a 100% effective boycott of all Foxconn-produced goods, would that improve the lives of their workers? Where would they work if they didn’t work there?

    Say we implemented an intensely protectionist foreign policy, and stopped importing from any country with worker’s rights that are less than our own. What would be the result?

    I don’t pretend to know the answers, but it’s an interesting way of thinking about possible solutions.

  13. It’s already been noted that the suicide rate at that factory is far lower than the national average.

    That said, are the working conditions humane?  No.
    Worse than other factories in China that make American goods?  Hell, no.

    But, either way…

    One of these days, maybe the Americans in our fine, upstanding, holier-than-thou Christian nation will realize we live off the backs of others in this world (while beating our chests claiming how great we are).

    And, maybe we owe these people a debt for what we have?  But, then again… to realize this would require some self-responsibility in this fine, Christian nation… and we really can’t have that, can we?

  14. I pay more for sustainable paper, coffee, clothing etc. I’d pay more for electronic goods if I was confident (via transparent and independent third party certification) that workers had an eight hour day with fair pay and a safe workplace. I really would.

    1. Ditto that! I’ve started to go in that direction as well. Unfortunately, it hasn’t necessarily been the easiest and I have bought crap that probably came from factories like this. But, if at least it’s a start i will keep focused this way and maybe, just eventually enough of us will think this way to change something or just start change.

  15. No, when you catch TAL on the radio, it’s a PBS station. Most of the programming on PBS radio stations are produced by NPR, but many are not; PRI, MPR, APM are all well represented on most PBS radio schedules.

    ETA: Disqus is sucking today. This pedantry was meant to be in reply to wysinwyg’s incorrect pedantry, which was in response to erg79’s pedantry.

  16. I feel like this shouldn’t need to be pointed out, but saying that the Foxcon factory suicide rate compares favorably with the Chinese national average is overly simplistic. At the least one should compare against the Chinese suicide rate for employed people with similar age demographics. Foxcon has the advantage that their workforce by its very nature excludes many of the people who are most prone to suicide – people with severe mental or physical illnesses, the unemployed (obviously), and likely the elderly and folks with noticeable addictions problems as well.

  17. Workers of the World Unite… stop letting the corporations crush your souls by threatening to move your jobs elsewhere or inshoring cheap workers… and constantly keeping you under the threat of having no job… the 1% are just loving things at the moment as they can use this global recession to win massive concessions from any government desperate to keep their people working…

    read Cory’s “For the Win” and start thinking about how to change things for the better for ALL humanity…

  18. From the Reagan-era idea of employees as “consultants who you could fire at will it was a small leap to no  employees at all.  The lack of stability, representation or even a fixed address in a particular country has meant there is no parity in supply and demand for labor.
     Apple and other major companies use this set-up to avoid responsibility for  their employees and can say:  It’s not me. One does wonder when people will be too poor to afford anyone’s gadgets in the race to the bottom.

Comments are closed.