Tuesday, April 3, 2012

John Biggs

John Biggs is a writer for TechCrunch who penned a series of rhapsodic articles about Foxconn. His latest is an old journalist's trick—if you have nothing new to say, repackage someone else's content.

his latest, he uses me as a tool to bludgeon his way into making this assertion:

Arguably the process of making anything isn’t very glamorous, but compared to what could be in China, other parts of Asia and, in fact the rest of the developed and undeveloped world, Foxconn is a relative paradise. Workers are given room and board, a stipend to live off-campus if they want, and workers often want more work, not less. Foxconn is on par with any manufacturing center anywhere else in the world, including the U.S. The only difference, obviously, is the pittance workers are paid.

John Biggs—champion of the relative paradise!

This barely deserves refuting. The NYT series, the NPR reporting on the iPad factory explosions, SACOM reports, even the FLA report that just came out last week—none of these paint the picture Mr. Biggs is describing above. None of them describe a workplace that is on par with U.S. manufacturing.

Then Biggs reveals—there are places worse than Foxconn in China. Of course, no one doubted this—not I, nor anyone else has actually ever said that Foxconn was the worst employer in China—but it makes a nice flourish.

He links to a
really excellent series being done by Adam Matthews on conditions in factories across China, and it is great work. On this Mr. Biggs and I are in agreement.

Then Mr. Biggs says of conditions at these factories:

It happens, it will continue to happen, but it won’t happen under the bright spotlight of world attention that is being shone on Foxconn specifically.

First, I don't accept this nihilism. Things don't have to continue to happen—things can change. In fact, change is a constant in this world. It can take years, it takes hard work, it takes activists, it takes public attention, it takes economic shifts, it takes everything—but it's work worth striving toward, and worth talking about.

Second, John is upset that so much attention is on Foxconn. But he's quoting from reporting that is getting wide distribution and readership *because* of the attention on Foxconn. Far from limiting the work that's happening, greater attention has increased the amount of reporting, and it is increasing the amount of public attention that reporting receives.

I've apologized for where I've gone wrong, but the conversation that has begun in earnest in the public space about Chinese manufacturing was *unimaginable* a year ago. You can see that in the WSJ analysis of what the changes at Foxconn are going to mean to the rest of Chinese manufacturing. What's happening now, and how it is covered, how it is read and cared about by the public, matters.

Sadly, China is far from the time when workers can unite and fight back. That time is coming, and Daisey probably did more to hinder its coming than any other activist, here or abroad.

We'll see.