I found Mr. Daisey’s visit to Foxconn to be a powerful narrative in need of greater historical context and a broader perspective of Chinese culture. I fully agree with Mr. Daisey that the labor practices taking place at Foxconn and many factories in China are horrific and need to be addressed. What I don’t agree with is his “pick and choose” approach to storytelling in his effort to bring attention to the serious issues of unsafe working conditions and child labor.
Underage labor is an important issue, however Mr. Daisey painted Foxconn as a corporation made up primarily of 13 year olds. After he was confronted with the Foxconn mischaracterization, he went on to admit that only 12 individuals out of the “random” 100-person sample of workers dying to speak with him were in fact underage. I respect Mr. Daisey for taking on significant issues but I just can’t view him as a credible source when he chooses to focus only on the pieces that advance his story. I am glad he bought these Apple issues to the surface yet feel no sudden urge to sell my MacBook or break yet another iPhone (this time on purpose) over his story. A response from Foxconn and the Shenzhen government would have added tremendously to his podcast as the positive developments taking place in Shenzhen seem to fly over his head.
While I have not personally had the opportunity to visit Shenzhen, I have experienced cities such as Hangzhou, Xi’an, Shanghai and Beijing where factories are thriving, people work severely long hours and pollution is rampant. Mr. Daisey accurately described the thick smog on his drive to the factory with Cathy yet failed to point out how common pollution is outside of Shenzhen and across China. In the weeks leading up to the 2008 Olympics, I was told by locals that government officials were literally shutting down factories to reduce pollution and make Beijing presentable for the opening ceremony. Could you imagine our government treating business owners this way in the United States? The point is that what Mr. Daisey left out of his adventure story is that the norms of Chinese culture and quality of life are fundamentally different from what we are accustomed to in the United States.
At the conclusion of the podcast Mr. Daisey finishes by pointing out that it took 100 years for American labor protections to come into existence. Believe it or not, China has made genuine progress in its treatment of workers and the handmade jobs Mr. Daisey describes cannot easily be shipped overseas with important worker protections attached. Such protections must fit with competitive Chinese industry and are a work in progress. Needless to say, it is a large work in progress that Mr. Daisey and I strongly hope to see completed sooner than later.