Daisey lied, but factory working conditions in China still lag

Jeremy Hobson: Good morning, I'm Jeremy Hobson. When we last talked on Friday, the big news for Apple was the launch of its new iPad. This morning, the big news for Apple is that it's going to tell the public what it plans to do with its $100 billion stash of cash.

But there was a big story in between the iPad and the $100 billion that involves Apple and Marketplace. It emerged on Friday that our China correspondent Rob Schmitz had figured out that writer Mike Daisey lied about Apple's operations in China.

Daisey claimed he had seen under-age workers and employees who had been poisoned. His story was featured on the public radio program This American Life, which had to devote its entire episode over the weekend to a retraction of a previous episode featuring Daisey's false claims.

Rob Schmitz confronted Daisey on tape:

Rob Schmitz: Cathy says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.

Mike Daisey: That’s correct.

Hobson: Rob is with us this morning from Shanghai to talk about what's been happening. Good morning, Rob.

Schmitz: Good morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: Let's start with Mike Daisey, the center of this investigation. How is he responding?

Schmitz: On Saturday, which was a day after our Marketplace report aired, and the same day that many stations were carrying Marketplace’s collaboration with This American Life, Mike Daisey had a scheduled performance of his monologue. He inserted a prologue that he read before the performance, and here’s part of it:

Mike Daisey: I wanted to let you know that This American Life is airing an episode this weekend that calls into question the veracity of the personal experiences in this monologue. I want you to understand that’s what’s being called into question are the personal experiences. The facts of what the situation is in China in manufacturing are undisputed. And they are reinforced by the New York Times, CNN, NPR…

Schmitz: And he left out Marketplace.

Hobson: I think one of the interesting things about this, which you pointed out in your story on Friday, which is that while what he had said was not technically true a lot of the things he was talking about were actually happening. They reflected real things that were happening at these factories in China.

Schmitz: That's completely right. And I think that’s an important thing we shouldn’t lose sight of—that many of the things Daisey lied about seeing have actually happened in China. There have been poisoned workers, and Apple’s own audits have caught underage workers at factories making Apple products, but here’s another fact that also might be missing from this whole conversation: From what we know these are rare occurrences in Apple’s supply chain. Life at factories that make Apple products is not all hunky-dory, but the truth is much more complicated than how Daisey’s portrayed the situation.

Hobson: Bring us back to the moment that you figured out that something was amiss. Why did you start investigating what he had said on This American Life?

Schmitz: I heard Daisey’s segment on This American Life, and I immediately thought some of the details didn’t seem right. So I decided to just Google the name of Daisey’s translator who appears in the monologue, here name is Cathy, and I then I added ‘translator and Shenzhen’ to her name, and there she was. I found her. The next day, I was at the gates of Foxconn in Shenzhen with a copy of Daisey’s monologue, Cathy was with me, and after going point by point through his monologue, I discovered many of the details, according to Cathy, never happened.

Hobson: What has Foxconn said about all this?

Schmitz: Well they've responded to Chinese press about this. A spokesman said that ‘the truth has prevailed and that Daisey’s lies were exposed.’ And then he added that he didn’t think the reports about this had gone far enough to find out, according to him, what exactly is the truth.

Hobson: Do you think any of this is going to have an impact on workers at Chinese factories?

Schmitz: It’s hard to say. Foxconn had promised a pay raise to its employees after Apple was under a lot of scrutiny thanks, in part, to Daisey’s efforts. But just last week, there were reports that hundreds of Foxconn workers at a factory in northern China because they didn’t receive the raise that was promised. Labor rights groups have said they’re now worried that Mike Daisey’s fabrications could actually hurt efforts to improve working conditions throughout China’s manufacturing sector, but it’s too early to tell.

Hobson: Rob Schmitz is the Marketplace China correspondent based in Shanghai. Thanks Rob, and thanks for all your great reporting.

Schmitz: Thanks, Jeremy.

Read Rob's complete investigation.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.
Log in to post3 Comments

In the world of defamation, there's the broadcast/printed type, called libel, and the spoken part, slander. Truth, of course, is a defense.
Will Apple sue NPR, American Public Media, TAL, Ira, and of course Michael Daisey? I doubt that China will sue Daisey, et. al.

But would Daisey have the brass gent parts to do a monologue on the living, like Dick "No-Brainer" Cheney, GW "I'm the Unitary Liar-In-Chief" Bush, Condi "I have no imagination, aside from that mushroom cloud image from 1945" Rice, et alii, and Obama and his administration, who've continued, and enhanced (arrogated) powers and principles established (as so many constitutional scholars, civil rights advocates, legal government advocates predicted out loud) as precedents by GW Bush. Or as Bruce Fein (once a GOP advisor, but championing the impeachment and removal from office of Bush, et al.) put it, the Bush illegalities and usurpations of power were like a Pandora's Box that only impeachment could close.
His predictions were correct.

(If you can find a copy of it in NTSC, or have PAL/NTSC DVD-reading gear, take a gander at John Pilger's "The War You Don't See". If you can't, there's a segment of it, Breaking the Silence, on http://topdocumentaryfilms.com. Two stunners are an interview with Arch Zionist and pentagon "crazy," (designated so by the Bush 1 admin) Douglas Feith, and Billy Kristol, who wrote the PNAC "New Pearl Harbor "blood paper". It's real clear that these lads never set foot in boot, and boot to ground in a combat zone. Never read history, either. I suppose guys like Daisey at least are limited to destroying reputations for their personal aggrandizement (or "art"), whereas the issues Pilger dwells in are live death or wounding situations, where the US thoughtfully manages to spare millions of "indigenous peoples" from confronting the vagaries of representational government—by offering them free passage to Heaven, and the eternal peace of Heavenly Rest. Question is, will the Nobel committee give the US another peace prize, or, having learned from their "aspirational" award to Obama, let the International Court take over to offer their acknowledgement for past successes in the time-delimited prose of prison sentences.I'd certainly watch the trials.

Gentlemen: Hats off to Schmitz for his work on uncovering Mr. Daisey's lies (sorry, there's no other way to put it, regardless of his motives and desire to promote his own one-man show). However, Schmitz's interview with Hobson suggested that Marketplace did not receive sufficient credit with efforts at uncovering some of the more unsavory working conditions at Foxconn. May I refer you to this morning's NY Times article, "Theater, Disguised as Real Journalism" in which Mr. Schmitz gets his props, as well as Marketplace, in a nice piece authored by the Times' tech writer, David Carr. Daisey and his supporters may not realize it but this doctored journalistic enterprise has inflicted real harm not only on the workers at these places but to honest, legitimate journalism. As is true in so many disciplines, the hard grunt work should be left to the professionals. Let Mr.Daisey play to his supporters as he has successfully done in New York; just don't pass yourself off as someone who backs up his rhetoric with facts.

NPR just wasted air time refuting a true story. Rob Schmitz being a Market Place China correspondent did not reported this story because he has become part of the Chinese system, he only look for ways to discredit Mike Daisey because his territory is being evaded.
Hobson said this morning that what Mike Daisey said “is not technically true a lot of the things he was talking about were actually happening. They reflected real things that were happening at these factories.” And Rob Schmitz said “that is completely right.”
More specifically some workers have jumped to their death, there have been poised workers and they have caught underage workers at the factories. The only argument is that Daisey said he saw it while he did not. But a reasonable person would not expect a poisoned worker with shaking hands to still be working in the factory; normally such people are sent home, and there are nets to prevent people from jumping their death.
Rob Schmitz should not only report progress in China but should also report the unpleasant stories that harm American workers.

With Generous Support From...