Insights from Hong Kong

Outfoxed by Foxconn: First Trumps NPR then Buys Japan’s Sharp

In America, China, Hong Kong on 29 March 2012 at 1:39 PM

In American public radio there’s a lot of soul-searching going on. And pushed from the centre of the debate is Taiwan’s Foxconn – the powerhouse technology manufacturer with sprawling plants in Mainland China.

Earlier this year National Public Radio (NPR) ran a segment entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” This one hour show focused on the stage theatre performance of Mike Daisey. He was invited onto “This American Life” and introduced by the show’s host Ira Glass. Then Daisey told his story.

The focus on the show is a visit to the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen China.  This facility is notorious for a spate of worker suicides. The copycat nature of these forced management to erect giant safety nets under the lip of each rooftop. It is also the plant where Apple products are manufactured.

In short, however, Mike Daisey included a number of fabrications in his monologue. And while that is inappropriate, what got lost in the messy follow-on are the deplorable work conditions faced by the employees of Foxconn.

In a “first ever” the host of ‘This American Life’ dedicated an hour long show to a retraction. This included investigations and a report by a reporter from The New York Times. Since then the apology, the factual inconsistencies, the drama of the errant monologue has been the centre of attention in the US press.

Foxconn has been absent. By allowing lies to get in the way of a good story, the story disappeared.

Today it’s reported that Foxconn became the largest shareholder in Japanese technology leader Sharp Electronics. This once-dominant manufacturer of flat-screen televisions has faced tough times as it sought to maintain a vertically integrated business. (Vertically integrated means they start with research through to manufacturing all the way to distribution of products. Some companies only perform one of these roles.)

The rise of Foxconn to major shareholder of a Japanese electronics giant is a sharp signal of the growth of Chinese companies (sharp signal – get it?).

And while the media in America are diverted with “how” the story got told about Foxconn, no one is focused ont he story.

Looks like Foxconn outfoxed the Americans, no?

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