Just got back from watching Mike Daisey’s one man play, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” at the Seattle Repertory Theater. It was an absolutely amazing show and I highly recommend it. It was hilarious, thought provoking and, near as I can tell, unfailingly accurate. I cannot recommend it highly enough; it is truly a must-see.
To grossly summarize the play, Steve Jobs is an “asshole-visionary” who has done amazing things at Apple, but in doing so, willfully ignores how Foxconn, which makes “all of our shit” grossly mistreats its workers, some of whom are as young as twelve. Daisey spent weeks in Shenzhen talking with factory workers and factory owners there to gather up material for the play and what he describes completely jibes with what I have seen there. His recounting of meetings with factory owners in conference rooms with business cards and interminably boring Powerpoint presentations definitely was totally spot-on and had me laughing so hard I could barely stop. As Daisey so aptly puts it, Powerpoint is to communicate with other people in the same room as us.
During the show, I thought often of the book, The China Price, by Alexandra Harney, which I have previously discussed here and in this post on the ten best books on China business. If you watch this play or read that book, you are forced to conclude that factory life in China is mostly brutal and that Western notions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) have had very little impact on that. Daisey talked a lot about how the Western media is failing to report what is really happening there because as he put it, governments seek to block information getting out because that works.
At one point in the play, Daisey referred to a Wired Magazine article, written soon after the Foxconn suicides, as having been written by “useful idiots.” My problem with applying that term to Westerners who are always so quick to whitewash what is really going on in China is that few of them are idiots. Rather, they are calculating businesspeople who have chosen to come down on the money side of the equation.
What do you think?
UPDATE: A number of commenters have rushed to defend Foxconn with the argument that it treats its workers better than many/most other companies in China. My response to that is that I do not believe Daisey would necessarily say otherwise. I think he focuses on Foxconn simply because it is so big and because it is so representative of what goes on in China’s factories.
A reader sent me a link to a just out PC Magazine article on Foxconn, entitled, “Foxconn Factories: How Bad Is It?” Pretty bad, according to the article.
I realize it is easy to criticize Foxconn without providing any solutions, but that is not the point of this post. My only goal with this post is to put out there the way things are so as to make it more difficult for people who should and do know better to act as though things are otherwise.
UPDATE: 3-18-2012 Turns out Daisey “stretched” the truth. For a great post explaining how he did this and the effect of what he did, I recommend China Hearsay’s, “Would-be Apple Killer Mike Daisey Goes Down in Flames.“