There’s Blood On Your Ipad

Not a Mac mini ...

You know that, right?

It’s on mine as well. I’m writing this on a Mac and much of my work is done on on a Mac laptop.

But I have yet to find a way to reconcile where and how these products are made — the subject of this one-man show currently playing in New York City. Mike Daisey managed to find his way to Shenzhen, China and to the vast community/company town run by Foxconn, whose workers who sleep in enormous dormitories, a hive of cement cubicles, required to work shifts so long and onerous that — as I was finishing “Malled” — the company made unwelcome front-page news as 12 desperate workers committed suicide by jumping out of their windows.

Their solution? Nets.

Daisey was recently interviewed on The Leonard Lopate Show, (a daily Manhattan culture-based talk show on WNYC),  and one of his words stuck with me: workers there, he said, are seen as interchangeably and dispassionately as “biomass.”

Seriously?

Yes.

I spoke recently to a smart, wise career journalist, someone who has seen China firsthand from the Tiananmen Square to today; her last visit there was two years ago. She unhesitatingly agreed with Daisey’s assessment: “People have no idea. China right now just wants to make money and everything else be damned. They don’t care about workers or unions or rights. If someone drops dead on the assembly line, there are literally millions more eager to take their place.”

I include reporting on Foxconn and the suicides in my new book about retail because every time we buy something made in so ugly and brutal a fashion, we’re de facto implicated.

We all know who Steve Jobs was.

Few of us know who Terry Gou is, the CEO of Foxconn; this link is to a Wall Street Journal profile, when he was heading Hon Hai — and Gou, then, in 2007, was worth some $10 billion:

With a work force of some 270,000 — about as big as the population of Newark, N.J. — the factory is a bustling testament to the ambition of Hon Hai’s founder, Terry Gou. In an era when manufacturing has been defined by outsourcing, no one has done more to shift global electronics production to China. Little noticed by the wider world, Mr. Gou has turned his company into China’s biggest exporter and the world’s biggest contract manufacturer of electronics.

Hon Hai’s revenue has grown more than 50% a year in the past decade to $40.6 billion last year. It is expected to add $14 billion in revenue this year. That is roughly the equivalent of Motorola’s adding, within a year, the sales of CBS Corp.

Throughout his company’s rise, the 56-year-old native of Taiwan has maintained a low profile. Publicity, he says, risks helping competitors and alienating customers. “I hate that I [have] become famous,” Mr. Gou said in a recent three-hour interview at Hon Hai’s Taiwan headquarters. It was Mr. Gou’s first interview with Western media since 2002, following more than five years of requests by The Wall Street Journal. “We are so big we cannot hide anymore.”

One of the smartest and most insightful shows on American public radio is This American Life, an hour-long weekly show by Ira Glass, which (for non-American readers here) is broadcast on 500 stations and has about 1.7 million listeners.  Glass did a special version of Daisey’s show for his show.

You can listen to it here. It is astonishing.

Daisey did the kind of firsthand reporting that journalists should be doing — and most often do not. He went to Shenzhen — a city of 14 million he describes as looking “like Blade Runner threw up on itself.” Highly unusual when reporting on Chinese labor, he spoke to many of its workers. He showed one man — whose hand was destroyed from making Ipads — what one looks like when it’s in use; workers never see the finished product, he said.

It is something every single user of these products must think about.

Is the only answer to boycott these products? I’m not sure anyone will.

Are there other, better solutions?


Kill Off The Girl Babies And This Is What Happens — China's 'Gendercide'

People in imperial China - Qing dynasty
Image via Wikipedia

Chilling,  powerful report from Peter Hitchens, (brother of fellow journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, better known in the U.S.) in The Mail on Sunday. (Try to ignore his conservative, off-message digs at feminism and homosexuality because the rest of the piece is worth it):

By the year 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women of marriageable age in this giant empire, so large and so different (its current population is 1,336,410,000) that it often feels more like a separate planet than just another country. Nothing like this has ever happened to any civilisation before.

The nearest we can come to it is the sad shortage of men after the First World War in Britain, France, Russia and Germany, and the many women denied the chance of family life and motherhood as a result…

I visited several state comprehensive schools, primary and secondary, in Danzhou and in the nearby countryside.

These were not official visits, nothing had been prearranged, and European foreigners are so rare in this part of China that the children (and often their friendly teachers too) were enthralled to see that the Europeans they call ‘long-noses’ really do live up to the name.

But as the children stared and chattered and giggled  –  and pulled at their own little noses to make fun of my enormous one  –  I quietly counted them, while my colleague Richard photographed them.

And in every cheerful classroom there was a slightly sinister shortage of girls, as if we had wandered into some sort of science fiction fantasy.

We had come to this region because of rumours that it has the most startling ratio of boys to girls in the country. One academic source has suggested there could be a ratio of 168 males for every 100 girls in Danzhou.

Something is clearly out of kilter. In one class of ten-year-olds, only 20 out of 80 were girls. In another classroom, it was 25 out of 63.

It is possible that some girls were being kept away from school because their parents did not think it worth sending them, but even so, the inequality was enormous and perplexing…

What lingers in the mind, in the midst of this surging economic and political titan with its dozens of vast, ultra-modern cities, its advanced plans to land men on the Moon, its utopian schemes to control population and its unstoppable power over the rest of the world, is the inconsolable misery of the bereft parents, the pinched squalor of the places where they must try to live a happy life, the jaunty wickedness of the cheap abortion clinics and the classrooms full of the ghosts of all those girls who were never born.

I found this piece, and the cultural disposability of girls, of future women, nauseating and heartbreaking.

If you live in the United States, almost everything you buy was made in China. They own our debt. They own our future.

These are their values.

From Wikipedia:

These practices arise in areas where cultural norms value male children over female children.[1] Societies that practice sex selection in favor of males are quite common, especially in countries like the People’s Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, and India.[1][2]

In 2005, 90 million women were estimated to be “missing” in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan alone, apparently due to sex-selective abortion.[2][3] The existence of the practice appears to be determined by culture, rather than by economic conditions, because such deviations in sex ratios do not exist in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.[2]

Sex-selective abortion was rare before the late 20th century, because of the difficulty of determining the sex of the fetus before birth, but ultrasound has made such selection easier. However, prior to this, parents would alter family sex compositions through infanticide. It is believed to be responsible for at least part of the skewed birth statistics[2] in favor of males in mainland China, India, Taiwan, and South Korea. Even today, there are no scientifically proven and commercialized practices that allow gender detection during the first trimester, and ultrasound is fairly unreliable until approximately the 20th week of pregnancy. Consequently, sex selection often requires late term abortion of a fetus close to the limit of viability, making the practice frowned-upon even within the pro-choice community.