In late January, I wrote a riff on Foxconn, the Chinese parts supplier and assembler of iPhones, iPads, and other consumer technology. Everywhere, it seemed, tempers were flaring over Foxconn’s alleged mistreatment of factory workers. There is little doubt that working conditions at the Foxconn plant can be improved, and I hope that they will be. Apple is working on it pretty diligently, it seems.
Two things in the controversy stood out to me: Western workers’ advocates’ two-faced condemnation of Apple (all the while vigorously clinging to their beloved iPhones and other Apple baubles, instead of putting their money where their mouth is); and those same folks showing their bad faith by neglecting to mention that hundreds of millions of lowly factory workers are provably clawing their way to a better existence, thanks to Foxconn-type jobs.
Here’s the latest headscratcher in the Foxconn debate. If your opinions about this issue stem in part from This American Life, the popular, weekly public-radio program by Ira Glass, you might want to note the fact that Glass and his crew have now retracted their story about Foxconn, and issued a wholehearted apology.
Unbeknownst to Glass, This American Life‘s hour-long episode about Foxconn was riddled with half-facts and fabrications, thanks to a less than scrupulous closet activist named Mike Daisy. Daisy visited China in 2010 and later wove a highly critical tale about Foxconn and Apple that he’s been sharing in the form of a traveling-theater monologue. The monologue, entitled AGONY/ECSTACY, has reportedly been downloaded tens of thousands of times from Daisy’s website by other theater makers and storytellers. Daisy has become a demi-celibrity, having been featured as an expert on labor exploitation on many news shows. Recently, his monologue made it onto This American Life, masquerading as journalism — after Daisy, when asked, repeatedly assured Glass that everything in the piece was factual.
It has since emerged that Mike Daisy made up an entire group of sources he claimed to have met and interviewed, but didn’t — including:
• underage workers as young as 13;
• a man whose hand had gotten mangled in a steel press, after which Foxconn supposedly refused him proper medical care and eventually fired him for being too slow;
• people poisoned and neurologically damaged by the release of n-hexane, an industrial toxin.
Daisy also lied about a slew of details, such as
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.