He's the former Seattle author, actor and monologist whose breakthrough book, 21 Dog Years, recounted his riotous customer-service career at Jeff Bezos' Amazon.com (where "Amazon Time was equivalent to dog years"). Now it's Mike Daisey's monologue about another tech mogul, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," recently broadcast on National Public Radio - that is credited with helping force Apple to take a closer look at the labor practices of its Chinese factories.
The move comes as officials at the Shenzhen plant strung nets around its facility to catch workers in mid-air when they try to commit suicide jumping of the roof. Labor activists say employees, some grade-school age, work around the clock; one died on the job after 34 hours on the assembly line.
Daisey, active in the Seattle arts and theater scene until moving to New York, clandestinely visited the Foxconn plant as research for his one-man presentation of the Jobs monologue, a commentary on the hidden human costs when Apple (and other U.S. corporations) farm out production to cash in on China's sweat shop labor.
The actor tells of labor so repetitious that it leaves worker hands deformed. He saw pre-teens on the assembly lines and asks "Do you really think Apple doesn't know?"
As Seattle Weekly reviewer Kevin Phinney said of Daisey's monologue when he performed it here last year, "The Agony aims to do for Jobs and Apple what Al Gore did for the SUV in An Inconvenient Truth."
Now, four months after Jobs's death, Apple clearly is reacting to such criticism. As Forbes reported yesterday:
Over the last six weeks, news coverage, especially in the New York Times, a theater piece by activist actor Mike Daisey that was broadcast on National Public Radio, and an online petition drive and coordinated protests at Apple stores on four continents, have put increasing pressure on Apple, which has been criticized for years for relying on Chinese suppliers that abuse workers.
The Times reported in January that two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. And within a seven-month period in 2011, explosions at iPad factories in China killed four people and injured 77, after Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the plants.
Apple is not the only electronics company doing business within a troubling supply system. Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.
In an appearance last night on The Ed Show on MSNBC, the heavy-set Daisey, dressed in the usual black attire he wears onstage, said he was delighted Apple was finally reacting, whatever its motivation, though he had concerns about the audit independence of the FLA, since it has a cozy relationship with Apple.
Daisey also said he's planning to post the Jobs monologue transcript on his web site, and allow anyone to steal it and use it as their own - no royalties necessary. He hoped to release it this week but the Apple announcement delayed him, he says in a web message:
"But it is coming soon, and the massive response, from nine different countries and hundreds of emails clamoring for the piece, is deeply encouraging."