This American Life And Jon Stewart Take On Foxconn

This American Life And Jon Stewart Take On Foxconn

Chinese manufacturer Foxconn has been the center of much criticism lately, with reports of worker suicides and the inhumane treatment of employees stirring up controversy. The issue has even reached the desk of funnyman Jon Stewart at The Daily Show.

Popular radio show This American Liferecently aired an episode on Foxconn that every Apple/technology enthusiast should listen to. Monologist Mike Daisey describes his trip to Shenzhen, China and the mini-city known as Foxconn. (And this isn’t the first time he’s spoken out on Foxconn’s behalf.) It’s an incredibly interesting look at where our gadgets come from and the people that make them.

An excerpt from the episode transcript:

And I look up past the gates and the guards. I look up at the buildings, these immense buildings. They are so enormous. And along the edges of each enormous building are the nets, because right at the time that I am making this visit, there’s been an epidemic of suicides at the Foxconn plant. Week after week, worker after worker has been climbing all the way up to the tops of these enormous buildings and then throwing themselves off, killing themselves in a brutal and public manner, not thinking very much about just how bad this makes Foxconn look. Foxconn’s response to month after month of suicides has been to put up these nets.

It’s shift change, and the workers are coming out of the plant. And I’m standing there under the hot monsoon sun and the gaze of the guards. I feel ridiculous. I look absurd in this landscape. I mean, I wouldn’t talk to me. And Kathy surprises me. Who knew? She turns out to be a spitfire. She runs right over to the very first worker, grabs them by the arm, drags them over to us. We start talking, and in short order, we cannot keep up.

First there’s one worker waiting, then there’s two, then there’s three. Before long the guards are like, er? Er? And we move further and further away from the plant, but the line just gets longer and longer. Everyone wants to talk. We start taking them three or four at a time. We still can’t keep up. Everyone wants to talk. It’s like they were coming to work every day thinking, you know what would be great? It would be so great if somebody who uses all this crap we make every day all day long, it would be so great if one of those people came and asked us what was going on. Because we would have stories for them.

You can listen to the full radio episode with more commentary from Ira Glass and other journalists and industry professionals. Foxconn makes products for companies like Apple, Dell, Nokia, Panasonic, HP, Samsung, Sony, and Lenovo. If you read sites like Cult of Mac, you own at least a few products that have come from Foxconn.

Jon Stewart takes a more satirical approach to the issue of worker rights at Foxconn in a recent episode of The Daily Show. The segment is called “Fear Factory,” and we’ve embedded it below. (It’s flash. Sorry.)

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  • cassandralite

    Until I hear Jon Stewart, Ira Glass, and NPR in general tackle the issue of unpaid interns in show business (including radio) doing the worst crap work while being subjected to the abusive whims of the largest egos on the planet, I’ll pass on a segment devoted to workers who are actually getting paid for what they do, miserably though it may be. 

  • Bob Forsberg

    Suicides can be prevented at Foxconn, and nets eliminated. Build low one story buildings for all the short workers….problem solved.

  • twitter-33834391

    well said ! so true !!

  • freerange

    Mike Daisey is a fraud and a profiteer. This statement in particular is outrageous and totally untrue – “there’s been an epidemic of suicides at the Foxconn plant. Week after week, worker after worker has been climbing all the way up to the tops of these enormous buildings and then throwing themselves off” - This is a facility that has over 400,000 workers employed. The reality is that the suicide rate of high school students in the US is much higher than at this facility. I don’t see him condemning our education system because of it. If these workers didn’t like their jobs they would quit as there are plenty of opening in factories in China. Instead, they work hard, save money, and send money home to their poor rural families. Yes, these are boring repetitive manufacturing jobs that require them to work long hours. I had the same experiences here in the US working at an auto plant which had MANDATORY seven day work weeks for several months – I had 2 days off the entire summer – working 10 hour shifts – but was more than happy to get the paycheck to help pay for college. I also worked in the steel mills at one of the worst jobs there – smokey, hot, polluted. There are millions of US workers that would be happy to have those jobs today, no matter the conditions.

  • Luis Dominguez

    Yeah, but I bet you where making a lot of money and getting paid overtime.  These people are taken advantage of.  

  • Alex

    Lets face it, the average Apple fanboy  would still buy iPhone & iPods even if they where made by starving children in North Korean prison camps.  

  • Alex

    I have friend that works for large international PR firm who writes stuff like this for a living ..  What line of business are you in freerange ?

  • freerange

    If you did your own research you’d find that these workers in fact make better than prevailing wages for factory jobs in China, and far more than their parent’s and other family members in their hometowns. It’s comical when we Americans try to look at the rest of the world through our own lens without any real knowledge about what it’s really like to live there. I happen to know because I live and teach in China, my wife is Chinese, and I am a student of Chinese culture and business. As to my experience at the auto plant I was making $12 an hour, and $8.50 at the steel mills. Do you think you could live on that?

  • freerange

    And I have a friend who responds to comments like this. Doesn’t say much of anything and doesn’t really know what’s going on but just likes to hear himself talk. See below for your answer…

  • Luis Dominguez

    “Not surprisingly, money is a top gripe. According to those interviewed, Foxconn will typically promise wages between CNY 1600 (about $246) and CNY 2000 ($307) per month, which is pretty good for rural China. But in reality, workers are earning closer to CNY 950 ($146) per month. They can earn more by doing overtime, but getting paid for that overtime can sometimes be a hassle. Many workers reported that their paychecks are consistently missing shifts, and getting their money is an arduous process.”

  • Luis Dominguez

    “Not surprisingly, money is a top gripe. According to those interviewed, Foxconn will typically promise wages between CNY 1600 (about $246) and CNY 2000 ($307) per month, which is pretty good for rural China. But in reality, workers are earning closer to CNY 950 ($146) per month. They can earn more by doing overtime, but getting paid for that overtime can sometimes be a hassle. Many workers reported that their paychecks are consistently missing shifts, and getting their money is an arduous process.
    In the wake of last year’s suicides, Foxconn did increase its workers wages, but as noted by SACOM, some crafty number work by Foxconn meant that workers did not get as much as was promised.
    “Nevertheless, it is good to know basic wage at Foxconn is raised,” the SACOM report said. “SACOM hopes that it is the pay rise is out of Foxconn’s commitment to a better living wage but not as a strategy to dilute media attention.”
    While overtime is meant to be voluntary, some workers reported that it was often forced upon them. In an interview with one man, “he grumbled that if he requests to leave the shop floor after the regular shift, he will not be assigned any overtime for a month. ‘If there is no overtime at all, I will only receive the basic salary. Hence, I have no choice,’” he told SACOM.”
    As a result, many Foxconn workers in these regions have little social life. Most live with six other people in a Foxconn dorm room in a remote area of China, and spend most of their days commuting, working, eating, or sleeping. “Asking the workers what they would like to do on holiday, most of them respond, ‘sleep,’” the report said. Many also must stand for hours at a time.

  • Alex

    Actually I work in an industry  that runs endless TV commercials contributes  large sums of money to political campaigns and spends huge sums on PR. To try to convince the public its sh*t doesn’t stink…  So when I hear a corporate apologist it all sounds very familiar…

  • freerange

    I love statements like “…sometimes a hassle” or “many workers reported…” or “…according to one man” without any scientific backup / hard numbers. Typical of these types of “reports”. I’m sure there have been some abuses, but again, this is a facility of 400,000 employees so there are bound to be accounting mistakes, bad managers (like every other company in the world), dishonest recruiters, disgruntled employees, etc. To try to paint an entire company or industry with the same brush from anecdotal encounters is not proof of willful wrongdoing or abuse on a grand scale. There must be some reason why 400,000 employees stick around. Apple’s recent announcements are also proof that they are taking work conditions seriously but it should also be noted that they have had auditing programs in place for many years to try to uncover abuses. 

  • freerange

    I’m a realist. One who lives and works in China and whose wife is Chinese and her extended family is here. On the other hand, based on your comment, the reason you work for your industry is what again?

  • Alex

    Really good pay … But I never make excuses for my employers.  Luckily they have Republican politicians and Fox News anchors to do that on daily basis …  And they where out in full force today. 

  • Alfred Morgan

    The Flash won’t play on my computer.  Bummer.

  • Killer_Kadoogan

    Whereas of course, the computer you posted this from, and all the other electronic devices in your house, were licked into being by happy kittens on a sunny country farm, weren’t they?

  • Alex

    Actually unlike your average Apple fanboy, not to mention the average American consumer, I do think about where the things I own come from.  That probably has something to do with the fact that I have spent many years working and living overseas. 

  • Luis Dominguez

    “A little over a week ago, 300 employees at Foxconn’s Technology Park in Wuhan, China threatened their own lives because they were denied a vital pay increase. Foxconn told them they could either keep their jobs without it, or they could quit and be compensated.
    Many chose to quit, but the company terminated the agreement, and none of the former workers received the promised compensation.
    Production at the company was temporarily halted. It was not until 9 pm the next day that the town’s mayor was able to talk the 300 down from the roof.
    Foxconn has been at the center of some considerably uncomfortable controversy over the last two years, after its high suicide rates and poor working conditions came to light. In total, it is thought 14 workers committed suicide in 2010.
    Although previously the company’s suicide rate was well below the country’s average, it’s hard to downplay those numbers now.
    Foxconn installed suicide nets at their factory last year, and workers in Chengdu are required to sign a “no suicide” pact in their contracts.
    These are just a few of the many small details that add up to a more worrying whole…”

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath has been a staff writer at Cult of Mac for three years. He is also a co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by places like the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too. All DMs excepted.

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