Because when you work in a factory, brands lose a lot of mystique, as Chang demonstrates in Factory Girls when she experiences a mild panic attack after discovering, all at once, that a teenage subject’s beloved collection of Coach and LeSportsac handbags is not fake. The purse factory at which she works is actually a genuine, officially sanctionedCoach factory, and this is no big deal because she is friends with the security guards, who will let you take a bag out of the factory as long as you promise not to sell it to strangers.
Working at Foxconn is nothing like that. Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous; “military” protocols the sneaker factories abolished in the early nineties govern every little process; countless rules seem intended purely to subjugate; and security guards are friends with no one, as Sun Danyong learned when an iPhone prototype in his car went missing in the summer of 2009. Foxconn security searched, interrogated, and tortured Sun in episodes he described bitterly to friends. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became.
So he jumped out of his 12th-story window to protest the perverse pathology that values inanimate objects over the humans that make them. Nowhere in his final text messages or chat transcripts did he mention long hours or low wages. The first news reports focused on Foxconn’s draconian confidentiality and non-compete agreements; in ensuing interviews with the Hong Kong labor rights organization Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), workers focused mostly on military training, standing, and other practices they described as “nonsense.”
But the nonsense works better closer to home. Excerpts of Adam Lashinsky’s new exploration of Apple’s vaunted “culture of collaboration,” Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–And Secretive–Company Really Works, detail a policy prohibiting employees from talking to one another about any topic about which both parties have not yet been officially “disclosed” — Distortionspeak for “cleared to discuss” — by a higher authority.