Apple Economy

Daisey lied, but factory working conditions in China still lag

Rob Schmitz Mar 19, 2012

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.

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