Don't overlook Mike Daisey's bigger point about Apple
(By Yang Su and Xin He, Special to CNN, March 19, 2012)
It is unfortunate that Mike Daisey lied about Apple's labor practices on "This American Life" by fabricating some harrowing details about the suffering of workers in China who make iPads and iPhones. But this revelation should not divert attention away from the very real, pressing issue of labor abuses in China.
The public radio episode that aired Daisey's falsified account helped set in motion a series of news reports and close scrutiny from the media, forcing Apple to acknowledge that conditions in its supplier factories can be improved and that workers should be treated better.
Now, because of Daisey's lies, some people might dismiss the problem of China's labor abuses. They should not.
Daisey should not have lied, even if he were doing it to serve a bigger purpose. Daisey's bigger point -- that workers in China are mistreated -- is true.
Labor abuse in China is hardly confined to Apple's supplier, Foxconn. It is widespread. In some ways, the working conditions in foreign-invested factories such as Foxconn is better than that of domestic factories. Compared with workers in large foreign-invested factories, workers in domestic factories often encounter delayed payment of wages, lack of safety measures and no health care. In an incident in 2003, Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboa helped a migrant worker reclaim her overdue wage from her employer. To date, unpaid and delayed wages remain one of the most serious problems for migrant workers.
Outside of factories, workers such as miners or construction laborers fare even worse since they forgo written employment contracts and face substandard working conditions. In the event of injuries or wages withheld, they cannot even file for legal protections.
China has about 153 million migrant workers. According to a 2006 nationwide survey conducted by the government, 86% of them work more than 8 hours every day and more than half of them cannot receive their monthly wages on time. A study from an academic group last year shows that these conditions have not improved.
Of course, Chinese workers have not suffered in silence. Wage disputes are on the rise. So has the number of distraught workers who threaten to jump from the top of factory buildings or skyscrapers that they have just built.
The plight of Chinese workers is rooted in the skewed power relations between business and labor. In the 1980s and 1990s, local governments often colluded with businesses to keep down labor costs. In the past decade under President Hu Jintao, the government has sought to improve conditions for laborers. A labor contract law was enacted and overt discrimination against migrant workers was lifted. But they are not enough.
Migrant workers with little experience or few connections are in a very weak position in large cities. They often take whatever job is available just so that they can survive. Businesses, on the other hand, incur little or no cost when they engage in unfair labor practice. Many existing laws are only good on paper, and businesses face no severe penalty for flouting them. In a country where the government often considers a partial recovery of overdue wages as a success, it's an upward battle for workers.
Despite a more tolerant attitude by the government toward labor protests in recent years, no channel exists to translate that into political energy for change. The Chinese government outlaws independent unions so that workers cannot organize or strike collectively. Even if workers have the advantage of people power of their side, they are simply not on par with businesses in terms of political clout.
In this context, the spotlight on China's labor problem raised by Daisey and others is important. If multinational corporations follow high standards in their home countries, they should abide by similar rules abroad. And if more of them follow Apple's example in allowing independent groups to inspect their suppliers' labor practice, it will go a long way to helping Chinese workers. Improving conditions in factories such as those owned by Foxconn will affect China's labor market as a whole and help workers gain bargaining power in dealing with domestic factories.
We hope that with continued international attention on the plight of Chinese workers, the government eventually will enact meaningful reform that will guarantee workers basic labor rights.
Woz supports Mike Daisey's message and says you should too
(Greg Sandoval, Cnet.com, March 19, 2012)
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said today that he loved Mike Daisey's show, believes his message is crucial and said he spoke glowingly of Daisey to Steve Jobs before the Apple CEO died.
In an interview with CNET, Wozniak explained that that the media misunderstands what Daisey and actors do. He added that after seeing Daisey's show in Berkeley, Calif., last year, he did not take away the impression that Daisey bore a grudge against Apple.
"I didn't get the sense that Mike was anti Apple," Wozniak said. "I think he loves Apple's products and I told this to Steve Jobs. I think Mike was looking at Apple to become one of the positive forces for having influence on improving things."
Daisey stars in a one-man play called "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" and in it he claims to have seen signs of suffering at the factories in China where iPads and iPhones are assembled. Daisey is under fire now after acknowledging he made up some of his tale.
He allowed excerpts of his show to be used as a factual report on a news-radio program and vouched for the authenticity of his monologue during interviews with news outlets. Woz didn't address Daisey's journalism credentials, or lack of them, but did comment on his show and said that he was very moved after seeing it in February last year. He told the Bay Citizen following the performance that he was moved nearly to tears.
"I'm a presenter," Wozniak told CNET. "I give 50 or 60 talks a year. I'm involved in community plays, musicals and ballets, a lot of performing arts...what actors do is to try to dramatize issues and events that are real. When you're watching Stephen Colbert and 'The Daily Show' not everything they say is factual but what they're presenting is real. It's a method of presentation that brings issues and ideas more to your awareness."
"A lot of people are saying [about Daisey] 'Oh you didn't experience this yourself,'" Wozniak continued, "but in his style of art he's trying to help the audience experience these things. I never expected the show to be real. The 'Pirates of Silicon Valley' [the film about the early rivalry between Apple and Microsoft] was not completely accurate. How could it be? But the movie is very true in the way that matters most."
Some of Daisey's audiences have indeed seemed grateful to him, at least as an entertainer. Yesterday, at his final performance in New York, the audience gave him a standing ovation.
What is most important to Wozniak is that the furor over Daisey not diminish in any way the message he tried to convey: there must be improvements made to working conditions at factories in China.
"I think his monologue has influenced Apple to take steps in that direction the best they can," Wozniak said. "I don't want to see that undone. Because people must know there are workers who can't get medical coverage and are underage and are put on a blacklist that prevents them from getting work again. I applaud Mike Daisey because of the attention and understanding he has brought to this."
"His show gets people feeling good and they tell themselves 'I want to be a good person,' is there anyway I can help?" Wozniak continued. "I think Mike Daisey got Apple and other companies more attuned to the issue--to do the most they can to make corrections. That's my impression about what has happened. His method succeeded."
Is this what you yourself do with your paintings, farmerman?
Weve gotta be consistent here wandel