From the moment I heard the outrageous claims made by Mike Daisey against Foxconn, Apple's manufacturing partner in China, on the January 6 episode of This American Life, I figured the fellow as an entertainer not a journalist; I just never expected how truly pathetic he would turn out to be. His excruciatingly painful and very horribly public attempts to explain away the exaggerations and outright fabrications in his bizarre stage piece and subsequent radio appearance with Ira Glass threaten to undermine the advocacy for worker's rights he claims to support and damages the very strong case against China, Inc. on a number of very real issues. Daisey's damage control is so completely inept, you could almost figure him for a collaborator planted by the Chinese Central Propaganda Department to distract the guileless American press from the real horror economic horror show they've got us in.
While, I'm not even sure Daisey ever got past the gate at the secretive Foxconn City complex in Shenzhen, I was in there in 2010 (the same year he claims to have visited). As we've noted in this space and elsewhere, I found it to be the best factory in China and wrote in our book, Death by China:
"As Chinese factories go, Foxconn's Taiwanese-run facility is far better than most. During his visit, Autry saw dorms, kitchens, and work areas that were first-rate, at least by Chinese standards. There were even game rooms, gyms, and pools."
If Daisey wanted to find worker's rights abuses he flat out choose the wrong target. He could have tried to contact survivors of China's notorious prison work camps or the mentally handicapped people enslaved at brick kilns. More like Don Knotts than Clint Eastwood, Daisey rides into town to save the good folk from oppression and locks up the manager of the general store rather than the bold gang of thugs terrorizing the hamlet. What is most tragic here isn't Daisey's lying -- everything in China is part of the Big Lie -- it's that his misplaced heroism and genuine American naivety on economics is so common in the media.
Like moths to a flame, the American press has been dangerously obsessed with the Foxconn City story and not the real problems with our China trade. Much of this fascination is due to the fact that the things that come out of it -- Apple's glorious iProducts -- are as Steve Jobs was fond of saying, "insanely great." They are light years ahead of the other junk we see from China and this should give us a clue that Foxconn is different. They are. From my visit and interviews with managers, I believe this Taiwanese (not mainland Chinese) firm, that is officially named Hon Hai Precision Industry, Co. is genuinely concerned about things like its employees, the environment, and fanatical about product quality. The problem isn't inherently Apple or Foxconn, it's that they and many multinationals have chosen to move most of their jobs to a nation ruled by a lying gang of thugs.
Let us be clear, the reason that Apple and Foxconn are in Communist China is not that some of China's workers are even younger than the girls on their gymnastics team, it's that the corrupt cadres that run the place subsidize every effort to steal American jobs. They do this by subsidizing entire factories for these firms, reducing the material input costs by 30-40% with their currency manipulation scheme, repressing labor, and looking the other way while domestic and multinational firms gut China's environment. That is the problem we need to deal with because it is really ruining the lives of millions of very real American workers.
Meanwhile, we could imagine a major American media outlet finding the courage to retract the much bigger lies about China's "peaceful rise," "harmonious society," and "market economy," that the Communist Party has been using them to spread for years.
Greg Autry and Peter Navarro are the co-authors of Death by China.