In The Apple Factory

Many of you will have heard about the “terrible conditions in Apple factories” in China, quite possibly from’s recent campaign. Problem is, one of the biggest reasons we all heard about this in the first place was a guy called Mike Daisey, who went to China and interviewed workers at Foxconn, the company that makes most of Apple’s gear. He was also heard on This American Life, an excellent public radio program from NPR in the US, that’s also heard on ABC here in Australia.

Mike has now admitted that he lied, and NPR have retracted their story based on his piece. He simply made up many of the crucial details, including the man with the claw hand ruined by a metal press, the underage workers, and the workers exposed to N-hexane. Some of those issues are real (to some degree at least) but he can’t verify them directly, and claimed he did. He’s now retreated into claiming that he’s presenting “theater”, but he’s repeatedly claimed his words as the truth, and they are not.

Foxconn is not a place I’d like to work, but workers there get paid higher than the average wage, and are less likely to commit suicide than the national average. Apple have, by admission of the local inspection board, done more than other companies to ensure a safe, fairer working environment. Foxconn may well be a boring, horrible assembly line factory, but Mike Daisey making it sound worse than it is doesn’t help.

UPDATE: Here’s a transcript of the latest NPR show, entitled “Retraction”. A key quote:

As best as we can tell, Mike’s monologue in reality is a mix of things that actually happened when he visited China and things that he just heard about or researched, which he then pretends that he witnessed first hand. He pretends that he just stumbled upon an array of workers who typify all kinds of harsh things somebody might face in a factory that makes iPhones and iPads.

And the most powerful and memorable moments in the story all seem to be fabricated.