A look inside the Xiaomi phone assembly line

Photo credit: micgadget.com

M.I.C. Gadget (MICG) got a tour of the facility that assembles the popular Xiaomi MI-ONE in Nanjing, China. MICG calls Xiaomi “a legend,” and its brief history is impressive. Xiaomi Tech was founded by Lei Jun in 2010 and released the low-cost Xiaomi MI-ONE (often called the MI-ONE Plus or simply “Xiaomi Phone”) in September of 2011. The company has since sold 1.8 million units.

Both Inventec and Foxconn participate in production, but  Inventec’s employees perform most of the work. Its Nanjing plant produces the Xiaomi MI-ONE. It covers an area of 65,000 square meters and employes 3,500 workers. The plant can produce 25,000 – 28,000 units per day, or up to 600,000-700,000 per month.

MICG notes that these Inventec factory workers log 10.5 working hours each day. However, they did not say how many days per week workers are on duty. The article contains many photos, including two of post-production testing facilities.

It’s interesting to see, especially after so much attention has been paid to the Foxconn employees who assemble products for Apple.

Mike Daisey was not glimpsed. Or was he?

Mike Daisey misses the reason for his own discrediting

I can’t let this go.

Mike Daisey, whose one-man show “The Agony And Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was recently exposed as containing blatant lies about Daisey’s experiences at a Foxconn plant in China, still refuses to see why he’s been discredited. Here’s an excerpt from a blog post he published on Monday, the 19th.

“Many consider this week’s THIS AMERICAN LIFE episode one of the most painful they’ve ever listened to. In particular the segment with me is excruciating—four hours of grilling edited down to fifteen minutes. I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful.”

Note the snarky tone. You’d think a guy who had suffered a national, career-threatening humiliation would be more humble. First, he’s sure to reveal that he endured “four hours of grilling.” He mentions that it was “…edited down to fifteen minutes,” which sets up the paragraph’s conclusion:

“I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful.”

Nearly every scoundrel I’ve ever encountered shouts “out of context” when cornered. It’s a good move, as it requires more work that it’s worth to debunk. You must find the original source and read well around the statement to get the context. Most people aren’t willing to do that, so they back down when “out of context” rears its head. Daisey knows this.

“Given the tenor of the condemnation, you would think I had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components, or that I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers.”

Here’s the first indication that Mike doesn’t understand what the hubbub is about. The statement begins with a gross exaggeration, meant to make his actual statements seem pedestrian. But the second part is even more telling:

“…I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers.”

No one is saying that. The majority of people following this story believe Mike went to China, stood outside the gates at Foxconn, pretended to be a businessman and spoke to workers. That much has been confirmed by the interpreter who accompanied Mike. He continues:

“Especially galling is how many are gleefully eager to dance on my grave expressly so they can return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made. Given the tone, you would think I had fabulated an elaborate hoax, filled with astonishing horrors that no one had ever seen before.”

Again, this illustrates that he’s divorced from reality. Mike’s detractors don’t deny that some terrible and even appalling things happen in Chinese factories.

The bit to focus on here is “…that no one had ever seen before.” That’s exactly where the disconnect is. It’s not a question of what “no one” or anyone has seen. It’s a question about what Mike says he saw first hand. Forget “no one” or anyone. They aren’t the issue here. Mike knows it, and he’s trying to be slippery.

Note the language, too. Galling. Gleefully. Hoax. Horrors.

Mike:

“There is nothing in this controversy that contests the facts in my work about the nature of Chinese manufacturing. Nothing. I think we all know if there was, Ira would have brought it up.

You certainly don’t need to listen to me. Read the New York Times reporting. Listen to the NPR piece that ran just last week in which workers at an iPad plant go on record saying the plant was inspected by Apple just hours before it exploded, and that the inspection lasted all of ten minutes.

If you think this story is bigger than that story, something is wrong with your priorities.”

The “bigger” story here, the real tragedy, is that “by lying, Daisey undermined the cause he purported to advance,” to quote Max Fisher.

Mike’s argument (as I understand it) boils down to, Americans must be aware of the often terrible conditions frequently endured by those who make some of the devices they use. That’s a noble cause to champion, and I agree. Those factories and exhausted workers seem  a world away to many Americans, but they’re not.

This whole thing could have been avoided if Mike’s show began with a simple disclaimer like “This monolog is based on stories I gathered as well as first-hand encounters I experienced while in China.”

I understand that some Chinese factory workers endure terribly unpleasant circumstances. I also understand that saying, “I did [X]” when I never did is called lying, and that can demolish a person’s credibility, no matter how noble or deserving their cause.

“That’s the real scandal”

Writing for The Atlantic, Max Fisher hits the nail directly on the head:

“How receptive will [the public] be the next time a reporter writes about how Chinese laborers are forced to stand for so long they struggle to walk, or that some workers weren’t even given gloves to handle poisonous chemicals? Will they believe the reports that say Chinese manufacturers could fix a number of these problems simply by rotating shifts or allowing workers to organize to ask for gloves, neither of which would cost them (or American consumers) anything?…Or will they think back to Mike Daisey, and wonder who else might be lying to them?

By lying, Daisey undermined the cause he purported to advance. That’s the real scandal.”

Bingo.

Who was Daisey’s interpreter again?

NPR: [1. The NPR site is down as of this writing, so here’s a mirror of its statement.]

“During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey’s story, This American Life staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter’s contact information. Daisey told them her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn’t work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.”

Cathy Lee (Chinese name: Li Guifen) was in fact Mike Daisey’s translator during his trip to China. She’s pictured and interviewed here. Oops.

“I wouldn’t express it that way”

Rob Schmitz, Mike Daisey and Ira Glass discussing the accuracy of Mike Daisey’s reporting:

“Rob Schmitz: [Chinese interpreter] Cathy [Lee] says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.

Mike Daisey: That’s correct.

RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?

MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.

RS: How would you express it?

MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.

Ira Glass: Did you meet workers like that? Or did you just read about the issue?

MD: I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers.

IG: So you didn’t meet an actual worker who’d been poisoned by hexane.

MD: That’s correct.”

Unreal.

“The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism”

This American Life has retracted an episode entitled “Mr. Daisey And The Apple Factory,” [1. TAL is getting hammered. Here’s a cache of the statement.] after learning that it was “partially fabricated.” Ira Glass:

“Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”

Wow. “Daisey” is Mike Daisey, whose one-man show, “The Agony And Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” describes the time he spent at Foxconn, posing as an American industrialist. [1. Here’s TUAW’s Mike Rose’s review of the show.] This American Life — produced by WBEZ in Chicago and distributed by Public Public International — aired a portion of Daisey’s monolog. That episode, “Mr. Daisey And The Apple Factory,” was the show’s most popular to date. An entire subsequent episode has been dedicated to the retraction.

Meanwhile, Daisey defends himself on his personal site, saying:

“What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.”

I’m floored by this. “The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism.” Really, Mike? Is lying to NPR fact-checkers a “tool of theatre?”

If I make shit up while standing on a stage, and tell you it’s fact, or knowingly permit you to assume its fact, it’s OK. Because I’m standing on a stage. Theatre!

I bet Ira Glass is spitting nails.

Change.org to stage protests at Apple Stores

The new iPad goes on sale in the US on Friday, March 16 and Change.org protestors will be there. Not to buy, but to prompt Apple to “protect workers making iPads in Chinese factories.”

The group has accumulated 25,000 signatures on an online petition asking Apple to “release a worker protection strategy for new product releases” and publish the results of the Fair Labor Association‘s (FLA) assessment of conditions at Foxconn‘s Chinese factory and other suppliers. Specifically, Change.org wants “…the NAMES of the suppliers found to have violations and WHAT those violations are, so that there is transparency around the monitoring effort.”

From what I’ve seen, Apple is doing a lot. The Apple-funded FLA investigation is a huge undertaking, conducted by experienced pros who know what they’re doing. The company has also published a “Supplier Responsibility” section of its website, highlighting its position on indentured migrant labor, underage labor, excessive hours, discrimination policies and sourcing conflict-free materials.

Ultimately, we’re talking about Chinese workers who are not Apple’s employees. While influential, Apple has limited control over their treatment and conditions. Maybe I’m naive, but I believe Apple will do whatever it can for those workers.