My preferred content to listen to at work is podcasts and as always, I start my week’s rotation off with the always fantastic This American Life from NPR. If you haven’t listened to this podcast, it’s a fantastic show where they choose a theme of the week (some specific, some often quite abstract) and a bunch of seasoned storytellers, authors and journalists tell a bunch of varied tales on that theme. Rarely can a show take subjects I would otherwise not be interested in and make them truly fascinating. In particular, this week’s episode entitled Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory is one I think every Apple user–or really anyone who regularly buys electronics in general–should listen to.
Mike Daisey is a professional storyteller–and man, is he ever good at it–who is also an amateur tech enthusiast. He loves technology in general and in particular, Apple products. He is actually a self-confessed Apple fanboy, something I appreciate as owning your fanboyism is something I really think more people need to do more of (hinty hint the staff of Tested.com). One day, he read a story about an iPhone that left a factory in China with a bunch of photos still on it. All phones with cameras get test photos taken in the factory and they are usually wiped before the phone is sent out. The photos didn’t really show anything of interest but it made Mr. Daisey realise that he’d never really spent any time thinking about where his technological toys come from or what it’s like for the people who build them. What follows is an amazing tale in which he goes to Shenzhen, China and ends up finding out just how bad things are there. We’ve heard stories in the press before about poor conditions at Chinese factories but what Mr. Daisey finds is truly disturbing
I don’t plan to spoil the rest of the episode as I think everyone should listen to it in full. We’ve seen the occasional story in the press about horrendous conditions in these factories but the one consistent theme through them all is that things don’t seem to be improving to any meaningful degree and the companies that hire these Chinese factories really don’t care that much. Apple claims to be doing audits of their partners and ensuring that certain conditions are met but aside from the factories constantly gaming the audits, conditions don’t seem to be improving much and Apple (nor anyone else) seems to be doing anything to fix these problems. For a company that makes such massive profits on the products they sell compared to the rest of the computer industry, they have even less of an excuse to be so lackadaisical about how the people who actually make them are treated. No one has an excuse for this though.
I’ve known about this type of thing before and it does give me pause when I’m thinking what brands of products to buy for myself as I too am a big tech enthusiast. The reality is, this is a consequence of a culture that has been conditioned to expect to buy technology for about half or less the price that it really should cost. People feel bad about 13 year-olds being exposed to neuro-toxins when building their iPad but if the alternative is paying $1,000 for it (and most likely not being able to afford it as a result), it’s easy to rationalise your worries away. I’m not saying we should all stop buying electronics until China becomes a democratic utopia but I think it’s important that we at least consider where the things we enjoy start out before ending up in our hands. Seriously, take an hour and give this show a listen, it’s something every lover of technology needs to listen to.