Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Book of Jobs | The Great Debate:

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.

To be clear: Enforcing such a policy at a company that prides itself on collaboration is pretty much the textbook definition of “Orwellian.” It is also good for shareholder value and a practice that has stood the test of time: Forbidding workers from talking to one another keeps wages down, especially when senior management has struck deals with its rivals (as Apple allegedly did) agreeing to refrain from poaching one another’s talent.