This American Life retracts Mike Daisey’s Apple suppliers story after lies exposed

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Image: Mike Daisey/Twitter avatar (@mdaisey)

This American Life, the popular show on public radio in the United States and airs in Australia via ABC’s Radio National, has decided to retract the story it aired that was critical about Apple and its suppliers’ working conditions after the details in his narrative had been embellished.

“I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications,” Ira Glass, the host of the program, wrote in a statement.

“We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.”

The retraction comes after another public radio program – Marketplace – aired a program that revealed Daisey’s embellishments. The program found the translator he used, Cathy Lee, and she revealed that most of the stories, such as the hexane poising, was false. “No. Nobody mentioned the Hexane,” she said.

The hexane poisonings have happened before, including a more publicised case two years ago in another factory in Suzho.

The reporter for Marketplace based in Shanghai, Rob Schmitz, decided to investigate the story after listening to the report and noted some inaccuracies – including having meetings in “different Starbucks in Guangzhou”, which he points out, is “pricier in China than in the US”.

On a statement on his blog, Daisey stands by his piece.

“I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity,” he wrote.

“Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.”

However, he does regret allowing This American Life to air it like a journalism piece. He also did apologise on air.

Apple does have a problem with its suppliers on working conditions. In 2005, the company created a code of conduct for its suppliers. However, the company’s rule that no employee should be working for more than 60 hours per week when making an Apple product is constantly broken. According to the New York Times reporter who was on the program, Charles Duhigg, that rule is broken by at least 50 percent of the company.

However, while people knew, there wasn’t as much of a backlash or attention to the issue until Daisey published his piece. More and more groups started to take a bit of action, including calls for a more ethically-made product. The retraction will certainly get some blowback, including people to even be a bit sceptical about claims of abuse since Daisey fabricated some of the more emotionally-impacting stories.

Let us remind ourselves, the abuses are there and have been well-documented by Apple, several known publications and watchdog groups. However, as I wrote in an opinion piece, while we focus on Apple, the issue is problematic for all tech companies:

We can all hope for better working conditions, but realistically – we’ll still have cheap labour, we will still have the poor working conditions and abuses. And we will all ignore it, because we want the goods at a price we deem is right for it. Effectively, that means the prices will remain low and ‘cheap’.

So, if we really, really want change; we all have to change our spending habits. Are you willing to pay more for something ethical?

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