Even in this high-tech age, our most popular electronic devices are largely made by hand . . . MANY hands, as it turns out . . . hands that often are very over-worked, or so industry's critics contend. Our Sunday Morning Cover Story is reported by Martha Teichner:
Just try to imagine 37 million iPhones . . . that's how many Apple sold in just the last three months of 2011.
On Tuesday it announced revenue of more than $46 billion for the quarter ending December 31.
Tim Cook, the man who replaced the late Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple, told Wall Street analysts the company couldn't keep up with global demand for the new iPhone 4S. "We didn't bet high enough," he said.
The world is in love with everything Apple . . . but here's a question: Have you ever wondered where all that stuff gets made?
"I had never thought ever, in a dedicated way, about how they were made," said performer Mike Daisey, an admitted geek. That is the centerpiece of his monologue, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."
"Shenzhen is a city of 14 million people that is larger and denser than New York City. It's the third-largest city in all of China. It's the place where almost all your **** comes from."
The show is an on-stage expose of working conditions at a factory in Shenzhen, China, owned by a company called Foxconn, which manufactures electronics under contract for practically every major brand you can name, including Apple.
It is, as Daisey says in his performance piece, "the biggest company you've never heard of. Foxconn makes over 50 percent of all electronics in the world."
The Foxconn plant in Shenzhen employs more than 400,000 people.
"If you've never been to the economic engines of China, these giant buildings stacked up with people, they're just staggering," said Daisey. "It almost takes your breath away."
Daisey went to Shenzhen. Foxconn wouldn't let him in, so he stood outside the main gate with his translator, talking to workers at shift change.
"In my first two hours of my first day at that gate, I met workers who are 14 years old," Daisey said. "I met workers who were 13 years old. I met workers who were 12. Do you really think Apple doesn't know?"
But what was news were the suicides . . .
"While I was there, in May and June 2010, that's really at the peak of when the suicides were happening with kind of terrible regularity," he said, "where week after week, workers would go up onto the roofs of these buildings and throw themselves off the buildings."
"When you were there, were there nets around the building to prevent further suicides?" asked Teichner.
"There was," he said. "They look a lot like the nets you would put out to catch fish."
"From the spike of suicides at Foxconn, we began to question maybe the harsh management methods drive the workers to commit suicide," said Debby Chan, a project manager for SACOM - Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, a labor watchdog group based in Hong Kong. SACOM reported at least 18 Foxconn workers committed suicide in 2010, and more tried.
"We began to interview the workers, and then many of them told us they have work pressure - if they make some mistake they would be punished."