The April 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine includes a letter to the editor by performer Mike Daisey, who was featured on a January 2012 episode of This American Life called “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” based on his stage show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” On March 18, This American Life aired revelations that some of the details in Daisey’s story were untrue. Among the facts contradicted by his Chinese translator was the claim that he had interviewed hundreds of Foxconn workers. She estimated the number at closer to fifty.
In “Killing the Competition” [Report, February], Barry C. Lynn expounds on the contraction of open markets in an age of corporate hegemony, comparing the plight of Apple employees in Silicon Valley with that of poultry farmers in the Allegheny Mountains. An even more apt comparison might be with workers at Foxconn and other factories throughout the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in China, who manufacture the devices that run Apple software. When I interviewed hundreds of Foxconn workers in 2010, I found they were, like the Apple employees interviewed by Lynn, skittish and fearful of being blacklisted.
Unlike most workers in Silicon Valley, those with whom I spoke in Shenzhen seldom have means of changing their lot, but they suffer no delusions. Perhaps, then, they have something to teach those of us who choose not to see the true nature of the corporations we work for or endorse. Lynn’s article reminds us of the naïveté underlying any assumption that regulation will occur naturally rather than through intervention.