Report Critical of Conditions at Apple Factory in China Retracted
March 18, 2012

Report Critical of Conditions at Apple Factory in China Retracted

An episode of a popular, former Peabody Award winning US radio program that contained a story critical of working conditions at a Taiwanese company that supplies components used in Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Sony products has been retracted, various media outlets reported Friday.

The producers of the series "This American Life" announced that they were recanting the story, which was described by Ian Sherr, Sam Schechner, and Jessica E. Vacellaro of The Wall Street Journal as one of the most popular in its 16-years on the air, because it contained multiple fabricated statements.

The 39-minute episode, which has been downloaded a reported 880,000 times, was based on performance artist Mike Daisey's one-man theatrical show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." According to reports that the show "condemned working conditions at Foxconn," the world's largest manufacturer of electronic components, and "is believed to have started the recent spate of articles" examining Apple's relationship with the firm, which is headquartered in Tucheng, New Taipei, Taiwan.

In a March 16 blog entry, "This American Life" host Ira Glass said that the staff of the radio program had "learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China“¦ contained significant fabrications" and that they could not "vouch for its truth."

After the report was first aired on January 6, Brian Stelter of the New York Times said that other journalists, including "Marketplace" China correspondent Rob Schmitz, began investigating Daisey's claims.

Schmitz "found holes" in Daisey's stories, Stelter wrote on Friday, and worked with members of "This American Life" to disprove some of the claims made during his performance. The results of that investigation will be broadcast by the radio program this weekend as part of an hour-long special episode.

Glass said that Schmitz had contacted the interpreter hired by Daisey during his visit to China, and that the individual "disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show." Glass also said that Daisey "lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story" prior to the broadcast, but added that they "never should've put [the program] on the air. In the end, this was our mistake."

The interpreter, identified by BBC News as Cathy Lee, also said that an incident in which Daisey claimed to have met a man who had been "badly injured" while working on Apple products--a meeting in which he supposedly let the injured worker "stroke" an iPad tablet computer screen "with his ruined hand," prompting the employee to say that the device was kind of like "magic"--did not happen.

"Nothing of the sort occurred," Lee said, according to the British news organization.

"We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio," Glass wrote. "Many dedicated reporters and editors -- our friends and colleagues -- have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It's trusted by so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards."

According to a Seattle Times report, Daisey admitted to Glass during Friday's broadcast that he had not met with any poisoned workers, and that he had not verified the ages of some of the individuals he met. Daisey reportedly said he was "conflicted about presenting things he knew weren't true," the Times story said. He said he had taken "a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," and said that he was concerned that public interest in conditions at the factory if he, as the newspaper put it, "didn't present things in a dramatic way."

Daisey's dramatized account of conditions at Foxconn describes an encounter with an allegedly 12-year-old employee, as well as encounters with female workers "who came in contact with a toxic chemical that left their hands shaking 'uncontrollably,' said Sherr, Schechner, and Vacellaro.

Despite the falsehoods contained in Daisey's story, Schmitz said during a Friday report on "Marketplace" that other individuals had witnessed what the New York Times calls "harsh conditions" at the factory that provides components for the iPad and iPhone, as well as for the Amazon Kindle, the Sony PlayStation 3, the Nintendo Wii, and the Microsoft Xbox 360.

“What makes this a little complicated,” he said, according to Stelter, “is that the things Daisey lied about are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by hexane. Apple´s own audits show the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple."

Telegraph Technology Editor Shane Richmond quotes Dailey as responding to the controversy by saying, "What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed This American Life to air an excerpt from my monologue."

The BBC attempted to contact Apple for comment but was unsuccessful.

"This American Life and its home station WBEZ Chicago had been planning a live presentation of Daisey's monologue on stage at the Chicago Theatre on April 7th, with Glass leading a Q&A afterwards," the program, which is distributed by Public Radio International, said in a press release. "That show will be cancelled and all tickets will be refunded."

"Apple wasn't the only one to outsource production to China and Taiwan -- but of the tech firms it did it on the largest scale, so this was a public relations nightmare for them," Davies Murphy Group technology analyst Chris Green told BBC News. "The fact the program has been discredited may help Apple and others a bit, but we know other real problems with safety at suppliers have been uncovered."


Image Caption: Workers assemble and perform quality control checks on MacBook Pro display enclosures at an Apple supplier facility in Shanghai. Credit: Apple