Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory

I listened to a podcast on This American Life. The link for it is here. I encourage all of you to take the time and listen to it. It's incredibly well written, funny in parts, and more or less gave me an insider's look through his eyes at what it takes to make these gadgets that you and I love.
Apple is undeniably cool. Wouldn't you agree? I'm sure you've seen the ads.
Mr. Daisey's fascination with Apple started when he got an iPhone out of a box that hadn't been wiped. It had pictures of people, conveyor belts, and other things in it and his curiosity became piqued. He asked Siri "Where are you made"? and Siri responded, "I'm not allowed to answer that." He states in the monologue that it was almost like Siri knew where and when and by whom she was created but that there was this thing that prevented her from speaking her mind.
Shenzhen by night. Doesn't it look incredible? Arcologies
and corporate super towers everywhere.
Because of the podcast, I now know that Apple products, namely the iPad and the iPhone are assembled in a place called Shenzhen near Hong Kong in China. Mike Daisey describes it as a city of the future and that it looks exactly what you'd expect a city to look like if Blade Runner were to throw up on itself. I think that's a great description and a great analogy.

This is a Sheraton Hotel
Around the tops of the skyscrapers, particularly at Foxconn, there are nets to catch workers because so many of them go up there to throw themselves to their deaths. In his time there, he talked with many under-aged workers (some as young as eleven) who worked a full-hour (not the American one filled with smoke breaks and slacking off). He clarifies that this is a full 60-minute shift with people standing behind them to monitor their work. And their shifts are back-breaking, some fall between 14- to 18-hour days. The work is so hard that it ruins the hands of many workers. They just get fired and have to go find work elsewhere.

This is the plan for a new corporate HQ in Shenzhen
He spoke with one worker that he found whose hands were ruined at Foxconn. This old man had a new job in a new factory. Mr. Daisey showed him the iPad and he'd never seen one turned on. All of these products (the iPad, iPhone, etc.) are manufactured and shipped back to the states. Imagine working back breaking shifts all day long for weeks and years on end, ruining your body, and never seeing one of them turned on so that you could play with it. To actually hold in your hands the thing that destroyed you.

The old guy in the podcast said, "It's like magic." I suppose it is so I agree with that statement. I play with my iPad and think "it's magic."

A nice cityscape photograph. This is the city where all of your tech comes from.
As writers, we really don't need to look very far to find inspiration for dystopian fiction. Maybe the reason dystopians are so popular is because they are more a reflection of how the world really works and how people really treat each other than utopias could ever possibly be. I will say this. Despite all my whining and bitching, I'm glad I'm not the worker class of Shenzhen. I think it sounds miserable, and I probably would have been one of the people that decided to check out early. Does this mean I'll stop buying Apple products?

Unfortunately no.
Workers in a Chinese factory.
I like the magic.

Does that make me a horrible person?


  1. I don't think it's just Apple, any desirable object, running shoes to electronic gadgets, is probably manufactured by suffering children and desperate adults. Welcome to Earth.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  2. It was sad at times when I visited China. The ladies who make rugs go blind by the age of 30. There are laws going developing around the country to protect these people now. It is a shame that it didn't happen sooner. I think your observation about Dystopian is interesting.

  3. Wow, wonderful post. I'm left feeling kind of dirty and guilty and in the mood to write something dystopian today.

  4. I had no clue. Now, I feel incredibly guilty. Of course, I wonder what thier lives would be like otherwise, though.

  5. No, you're not horrible, just a more typical reaction than you think. I like magic too.

  6. My son kept reminding me that I am enjoying my iphone and ipad at the costs of underpaid Chinese children. I asked him how about his androids, he said Apple has one third of market but sixty percent of money. I don't know what I could have done differently.

  7. Money truly is the root of all evil. Interesting that the company spends money to keep workers from jumping off the towers instead of spending the same money to make their work conditions a little more tolerable.
    Another interesting point you made was the American worker has smoke breaks and periods of "slacking off." I have no doubt that many people are lazy, especially in this country, but the worker is better paid than say, children in China.
    You can't have it both ways. If you want products made in America by well-treated workers, it'll cost you a lot more than the much less expensive gadgets made by a labor force that is grossly underpaid and often abused.

    I'm getting a little off topic maybe, sorry Michael. Your analogy of looking home for a Dystopian society was spot-on. Some of those cities are beautiful. Money is obviously spent on gorgeous designs, and we still put up boxes!

    Excellent post.

  8. One more thing, you are NOT horrible. I'm typing on an HP computer. Maybe I don't want to know where they make them.

  9. It's hard these days to find anything not manufactured in China, so you can't feel too bad about it. That's how all the big corporations circumvented labor unions and American laws like minimum wage; they just went overseas to where regulations are like the 19th Century. Making it even better for the fat cats is the repressive government there deters the kind of protests that created unions and better working conditions in America. Not to mention if anyone there protests there are always a million more to take their place.

  10. My friend had to wipe his phone after corruption, and the default Apple ID is Steve@Rim.Jobs. Google it. Joke by Apple programmers, perhaps?

  11. You always have the coolest posts. And you are not horrible! I like the magic too.

  12. Eh, moral stands. You have to look pretty hard to not find one these days.

    Here's the other side of buying Apple and other China products: The more you buy, the better their standard of living gets, and the more they become able to demand the kind of reforms that American workers got just over a century ago (and which we're busy dismantling.)

    Some companies are finding the demand for rising wages in other countries offsets the savings they get working there, and are moving back home. And those Chinese workers may be better off than they were under prior regimes, notwithstanding that their conditions are horrible. Think how many people risk their lives to sneak across our borders to do degrading, backbreaking work that Americans don't want to do; they don't do that because it's fun.

    That Chinese worker may not have much choice in the matter, but if he was given a choice between that horrible job and a horrible-er existence, what would he do?

    I'm in favor of using buying power and persuasive power to help get change: the reason jobs are shipped overseas is because it's cheaper to do that and we want cheap stuff. If we use our muscle not to shoot Afghans who didn't do anything to us but instead to force improvements in human rights, maybe we wouldn't have these kinds of stories and countries could stop the race to the bottom that so often precedes progress.

    In short: keep buying your Apple junk, but contribute some of the money you save to human rights' causes.

  13. If you are horrible then we all are.A whole new take on 'One man's magic...

  14. That's why it's a shame it's so expensive to manufacture anything in America.

    I got my first iphone last year for my birthday and I have to admit, it's pretty cool.

  15. I haven't listened to This American Life in a while. I always enjoyed that podcast.

  16. It's like slave labor. And I wouldn't feel bad. I'm still going to buy Apple products as well.

  17. I don't think we own a single apple product, but, then, we're pretty low tech around here. No mobile devices of any kind.
    We also avoid buying things made in China as much as possible; although, that has more to do with the lack of regulations on products than anything else.
    Relating to what Briane said, I was reading an article just the other day about how outsourcing American products is quickly becoming more expensive than keeping production here at home. "They" expect to start seeing a swing in factory production back to the States within the next 3 years or so.

  18. Nope! I like the magic too! So.Incredibly.Awesome!!!

  19. Liking magic does NOT make you a horrible person. Magic is the possibility to create.

    We all need a little magic in our lives, and that is why we write, right?

  20. As a student of history I realize that everything moves in economic cycles. The Spanish didn't want to pay high manufacturing costs in the days of the Armada so they purchased everything cheaply from the English. The English didn't want to pay too much so they shifted their manufacturing centers to the American colonies. We shipped our jobs to China but look at what's happened to Japanese manufacturing, in the doldrums for a decade now. China will soon have its own problems. It's time for us to reinvent ourselves.

  21. I don't think it's just Apple either. I heard the beginning of this podcast (but then had to get out of the car). Glad to know how it continued. I'm conflicted when I buy Apple or Amazon products because I've heard of workers' conditions. People are always willing to look the other way to pay less. That's how slavery thrived.

    I'm not surprised workers haven't seen the products in action. I just read Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain. In it, Bourdain takes the man in charge of cutting all the fish for an upscale restaurant to eat in that restaurant. The fish cutter makes a good living, but not enough to eat in his own restaurant. The man delighted in seeing his fish brought to life.

  22. The first step towards making a postive change is to shine light on the subject. Thank you for helping to shine light on this. The more that we know about this, the more we can do about it.

    Hopefully this'll post. The computer is giving me weird error messages...

  23. I doubt it's just Apple. But you bring up a point that we should look deeper into things.

    I liked your description, "like Blade Runner threw up on itself." Most excellent.

  24. All of us posting here are guilty. There are no computers that don't have some parts made in a factory like the one in the photo.

    I don't think you're a horrible person anymore than I think I or most computer users are. At the very least you're up front about the ramifications of our choices.

  25. this is one of the stories that most Americans love to ignore. They've celebrated the Apple guy even though he was just one of the exploiters of the poor and the unprotected.

  26. It's a sad story, and like you I can't stop loving my mac and ipad and iphone. But then think about all your appliances in your kitchen - they're all from China made by people, mostly farmers who can't make a living out of farming, working in these factories. I've been to Shenzhen a few times, and while it produces a lot of things, it's also a very overpopulated and polluted location... Yeah, my work makes me visit such factories all over china...

  27. I wanted to listen to the 'cast, but interestingly enough I got a message on my iphone saying that "the format isn't supported"

    I like the magic too. I also kinda hate that I like it so much, but not enough to actually stop liking it.

  28. It would be hard to buy anything from an honest, caring company these days. I hope the workers arise and fight! These companies wash their hands and say it is China's fault when they could set the standards and wages. They don't.
    Of course all they care about is making more and more money for more and more cars, boats, yachts and planes. They could make things in America and sell them for just a little more if they weren't so greedy.

  29. No, not horrible.

    Dystopia is all around us, you're right. I remember watching a news program about the conditions at that factory, talking about how employees would jump off the building.

    My mind has a hard time wrapping itself around that.

  30. Yeah, that's why I don't own Apple products, and why I don't mourn Steve Jobs. And to those who say, "Hey, everything we use is made like this!" Well, that may be true, but Jobs was powerful enough to stop it if he wanted to. He didn't. He probably negotiated the contract to use Fox conn in the first place. The whole magical Apple mystique is to cover their horrible business practices. If you want something closer to home that will make you question using that shiny new iphone, Google what it's like to actually work at Apple sometime.

  31. For the lazy, this describes what it's like to work at Apple. But at least they haven't put up nets to catch suicidal workers yet.