Mike Daisey's fictional attack on Apple and Foxconn reveals fact of Silicon Valley greed
The failure of local news staff to proactively investigate corporations impacts the quality of life in the community. Profit-hungry inventors, investors and executives often leave a trail of burnt out, under-compensated employees in their wake. Trust suffers. Without strong reporting, there's no incentive for the notoriously fractious California State Legislature to look at the everyday abuses a cadre of foxes inflict on the henhouse of workers in this "right to work" state.
Suicides in China? Every Silicon Valley employee (out of an estimated 300,000 hi-tech workers in the Bay Area) who works with parts sourced from China knows something unpleasant probably happens to laborers in Chinese factories. Why was there so little local reporting about the conditions at Apple suppliers while Jobs was still alive? Why is it left to East Coast media outlets to investigate events, decisions and behaviors that occur in Santa Clara County?
To read the local papers, you'd think that the financial services sector in NYC had a monopoly on exploitative machinations. Yet every SV worker knows about abuses of the H1 work force – a large group who live a modern version of indentured servitude, only to be resented by their US native-born colleagues because their presence plays into the hands of management trying to squeeze more work out of everyone.
With a contingent of H-1 visa holders on staff, management can prod the US natives to work at the same level of intensity (i.e. long hours or over the week-end) without saying a word, because everyone knows that the H-1 visa holders must do as they are told.
Most employees could tell you a story or two about witnessing a manager's perversity while dealing with an H1 visa holder. I know of one instance where an H-1 visa holder shared the fact he was happy about the impending receipt of his Green Card residency permit.
A week later, he was thrown out of his job and, as a consequence, out of the US, mere weeks before the paperwork settled. He relocated to Vancouver and started the whole process all over again, with better results and rave reviews from his employer.
And don't think that Apple's getting its hand slapped back in 2007 put a stop to Silicon Valley stock-options jiggery pokery. Esoteric terms like "asymmetrical recap" are thrown around to cover up how start-up founders can leave their long-time employees high and dry when it comes time to sell the company they helped build. I know of one case where the callous founder sent his long term employees an impersonal letter that arrived on Christmas Eve.
Not wanting them to be burdened with a fair share of the proceeds, he wrote that they'd better sign off on an arrangement whereby the majority of the sale bonus money went to his cronies (how else to describe people who shared his Woodside CA zip code?) . And if they didn't sign? They alone would be the sole cause of the deal falling through. In the past year, execs from both Skype and Zynga have taken heat – but not censured – for trying to say, "Oh, didn't you read the fine print?" to take back options from staff after the hard work was done.
There haven't been any suicides that I've heard about attributed to the caustic maneuvers the management practices on employees, but you have to wonder how many techies have contemplated it. Is there anyone outside of the Silicon Valley bubble that thinks this ugly behavior represents the American way?
While the focus of the Daisey/TAL controversy remains on Mr. Daisey's behavior and the majority of Silicon Valley workers seem content to allow Scott Adam's Dilbert comic strip be their spokesperson, I believe that Mr. Daisey's guerrilla methods partially succeeded. Even if the Apple fandom is not clamoring for justice in China or Santa Clara the way they are for new products, Apple sets a standard for other companies and should be held accountable. While Mr. Daisey was dishonest, he will pay. No more work as a journalist.
But whose shamelessness and ethics should we be discussing? An unintended consequence of Mr. Daisey's lies was that he achieved the end he sought. The real story -- of Apple's track record in China and working conditions at home and abroad -- will receive another round of scrutiny.