Steve Jobs Show Shares 'Shocking' Details From Factory Floor

One-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" opens this week.

January 23, 2011, 4:42 PM

Jan. 24, 2011— -- Even when he's not on stage, Mike Daisey knows how to use the power of performance.

When the 37-year-old monologist decided to go to China last year to explore the factories behind Apple's popular products, he said, journalists in the U.S. and Hong Kong warned him against the "fruitless, probably dangerous, exercise."

Security at the factories is notoriously so tight that, last year, a Reuters reporter revealed he was roughed up by guards while just standing outside a gate taking pictures.

But ever the storyteller, Daisey used his art to find his own way in. He printed up fake business cards and, posing as an American industrialist, finagled his way to exclusive, invitation-only tours of the Foxconn factories where, on behalf of Apple, the proverbial sausage is usually made in secret.

This week, in a one-man show opening at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., Daisey not only tells the story of his journey, but what it means for the rest of us soaked in a tech-obsessed society.

"The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" celebrates the genius of Apple's visionary founder and CEO, but also shines a bright light on the human cost of bringing his revolutionary concepts to life.

Daisey said the idea behind the sixteenth monologue of his career grew from his own infatuation with technology.

A tech geek and Apple fanboy himself, he often takes apart and cleans his MacBook Pro laptop to relax after shows. He takes his calls on an iPhone. But a few years ago, he said, he reached a moment when needed to know exactly where his favorite gadgets came from.

"I had his experience where I saw pictures from the factory floor in Shenzhen [China]," he said. "I just realized that I did not know in a deep way where these things came from and that's what started me on my journey."

So he flew from his home in New York City to China and, for about a month, tried to absorb all he could about life in the plants that churn out Apple products.

In addition to passing himself off as a businessman, Daisey said he used other investigative tactics. For example, he stood outside Foxconn factory gates with a translator and, under the watch of gun-toting guards, interviewed anyone willing to talk to him.

Hundreds of People Willing to Talk About Labor Conditions in China

Although he was cautioned otherwise, he said, hundreds of people agreed to speak with him. And he said their stories were worse than he imagined they would be.

"I think what was striking to me is I'm not naïve. I expected the conditions to be bad," he said. "I did not expect them to be as bad as they are. I was shocked at the scale of it. I was shocked at the inhumanity of it."

He said he saw the dormitories where 10 workers sleep in 10-foot by 10-foot "concrete cells."

"This was the order of the day," he said. "There are no labor standards – none that are enforced."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment from But in response to other critiques of conditions at factories that manufacture Apple goods, the company has said it is committed to high standards of social responsibility across its supply chain.

Attempts to reach Foxconn for comment weren't immediately successful. In September, after reports that 11 Foxconn factory employees committed suicide, Foxconn founder Terry Gou told Bloomberg Businessweek that the company would increase wages 30 percent for factory workers in Shenzhen and implement another wage increase later in the year. The company also said it set up a 24-hour counseling center for employees and installed netting around its buildings to catch potential jumpers.

But Daisey said he observed something like an "alternate universe."

"We exported our jobs, but none of our labor values," he said.

Steve Jobs has revolutionized how consumers use technology, Daisey said, but he has also played a key role in shaping how those technologies are actually brought into existence.

"Especially in technology, we separate the manufacturing of the thing so far from the actual use of the thing," he said.

Just like the organic food movement started pushing people to ask where their food comes from, Daisey hopes his show will encourage people to start asking about where their technology comes from.

"It is very clear to me that change could come to these places if people care. If corporations had pressure," he said. "I hope [the show] stirs them and disturbs them. I hope that it provokes them in the best sense of the word. I hope it shakes them loose so they feel stirred to some sort of action…. To write Apple."

But noting last weeks' news of Jobs' latest medical leave, Daisey said he knows the company might be on the verge of facing its greatest challenge yet.

As Jobs Takes Medical Leave, Apple Could Face Its Greatest Challenge

"I was really blindsided and crushed by the news," he said.

Daisey said that given Jobs' enigmatic and mercurial personality, the odds of change coming to labor practices of the manufacturers used by Apple seem higher with him in charge.

"I worry that a company without him at the head will not be as nimble as that," he said. But he added that an Apple without Jobs could be a different place altogether.

"It is hard for me to imagine an Apple without Steve Jobs. I think it'll be even harder for Apple to imagine itself without Steve Jobs," he said. "The greatest challenge of Apple's existence is to understand what it means if Steve is not there. I think they're actually a part of each other in a very deep way."

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