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Tag Archives: Shenzhen

Mike Daisey, a journalist and feature writer, delivered a radio show about Chinese factory workers on NPR “This American Life” in January.  I listened to the show one Sunday morning with a friend and kept thinking how odd it was that the things he was saying about his interviews with workers outside of Foxconn, just didn’t ring true.  I remarked to my friend throughout the broadcast that his examples weren’t true, or were odd. For example, he claimed he talked to several young girls who told him they were 12 and 13.  If they were underage workers at the Apple factory, why on earth would they say so and risk losing their jobs in one of the best factories in China?  In another example he talked about guards at the factory gates toting guns.  I have never seen anything like this in the factories I have visited.

Well, it turns out that Mike Daisey lied and embellished his story for NPR and for his off-Broadway monologue called “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”.  Only a few parts of his story were true…enough to make it sound real.  NPR has broadcast a retraction and the world press has skewered Mike for lying.

It’s not that those of us with China experience don’t believe there is room for improvement.  Chinese factories in general have a long way to go to improve working conditions and address human rights issues.  Conditions are not consistently up to world standards yet.  But the Foxconn factories are some of the best places to work.  Apple, HP, Dell and other companies have taken pains to monitor the production environments to make them humane and safe.

What bothers me most about Mike Daisey’s lies is that he has incited people to believe more fiction about China.  It’s time we dig deeper and question stories like this in the Western press and demand that our news companies verify all facts prior to printing or broadcasting.


I’ve been holding off writing about Foxconn’s woes in its factories in Southern China.  There, multiple suicides have made international headlines and have highlighted working conditions in Chinese factories. 


Taiwan-based Foxconn (AKA Hon Hai)has been dragged from relative anonymity of contract electronics manufacturing services (EMS) into the glaring spotlight, together with its customers, Apple, Dell, HP and others.  Under the lamp, Foxconn’s practices have been examined for evidence as to why young people are committing suicide on the Foxconn manufacturing megasite in Shenzhen.  Shenzhen is a city of about 14 million people (approximately 12 million of them are migrant workers), about 40 miles from Hong Kong.  The press and Human Rights activists point to the low pay, long hours and cramped working conditions.


But all of the stories seem to be out of context.  If you consider the suicide rates for high school and  college students in the US (approximately the same age group), you’ll find that the Foxconn rate is actually quite low: 5.4 per 100,000 which is roughly one-half the rate in the US.  If you consider the wages and working conditions at Foxconn vs other factories in Southern China, you’ll find that they are competitive if not slightly better.


Foxconn is by far the largest contract manufacturer in the world, with about 400,000 workers in China alone.  As a result, they are often the industry leader in innovation, trends and tactics in the management of their manufacturing and assembly operations.  They are also a target for the criticism launched by the Western world and human rights activists. 


All facts and context  considered, Foxconn should not be criticized for their working environment, and the Western world needs to calm down.



Shenzhen, China January 2
Shenzhen, China magnify

I have learned a few things over the past couple of days. On Jan 2, we rode the train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, China, just 40 miles from downtown Hong Kong. Shenzhen is a new manufacturing city, established just 20 years ago. Everywhere you look for miles and miles are all kinds of factories and ocean containers packed for export through the booming nearby port.

The cost to produce things here is just a fraction (1/10 to 1/20) the cost to produce in the US. As a result, this area of China is experiencing exponential growth. The infrastructure is being built as fast as possible, (a subway system is under construction in Shenzhen), however electricity production cannot keep pace with demand. We were told that the manufacturing plants close 1 day per week in the summer because the use of air conditioning causes excess demand for overall power in Shenzhen.

We met with some business contacts, toured a plastics plant and had a very rare and privileged opportunity to tour some workers’ living quarters. The plastics plant was clean and efficient and although the production of precision plastics is not as labor-intensive as assembly work, the operation is still low-cost. This company is rapidly investing in new machine tools, has implemented SAP as their business system. They work hard to procure low-cost materials, but are also obsessively focused on quality standards because they know this strategy will help them retain long-term customers.

The managers had impressive credentials including MBAs from Shenzhen University. They all spoke English and were proud to explain their part of the operation. Workers at this company stay in the company dormitory Monday-Friday and go home on the weekends. Inside the dorm, they sleep 6 to a room, except for managers, who have private rooms. Workers have access to PC’s and the Internet, a TV room, exercise equipment, and a reading room. While Spartan by US standards, the dorm reminded me of my college days.
Each time we crossed the border (Hong Kong to Macau and return, Hong Kong to Shenzhen and return and Hong Kong to Beijing) we were required to prepare exit paperwork from the origin country and immigration paperwork for the destination country. Coming back from Shenzhen, we were also checked for our body temperature, I suppose to make sure we weren’t sick. One has to wonder what happens to all of those exit and immigration forms because the process also includes a passport scan and computerized check of your visa. It’s worth it though. Visiting for business and sightseeing in China is amazing!