So at this point, as we’re listening to Technology and Business journalists indignantly ranting on about lies and truth, it’s important to question how truthful any article on Apple production can be that does not include information about the health and safety record of their supplier factories in China [and it's worth stressing that the health and safety issues do not relate simply to Foxconn - for example, it was another Taiwanese company Wintek that was involved with the hexane poisoning cases]; because we can all agree that Mike Daisey should at the very least have prefaced his monologue with a clarification that dramatic licence had been taken – but what should we make of an article like “False Alarm: Why The Apple/Foxconn Debacle Clouds The Real Manufacturing Mess” which, published more than two weeks after The New York Times piece exposed numerous serious problems with Foxconn argues:
What they won’t see are disfigured workers toiling in Dickensian sweatshops, infants crawling through metal stamping machines, and workers chained to their stations until the millionth widget is shipped or they die of exhaustion. Why? Because Foxconn has been working with major manufacturers for long enough to know what they expect and they’ve seen enough European and American plants to know that squalid conditions beget squalid paychecks.
The FLA, without a doubt, will return with a report citing a few underage workers, the recommendation to build bigger dorms, and an overall rating of, say B- in terms of safety and worker quality-of-life. It’s not perfect, they’ll say, but it’s not horrible, especially when compared to garment shops.
B-? Two reported factory explosions with deaths, not to mention poisoning, underage labour, and suicides. what would it take to earn a fail on this particular journalist’s scale?
At least that story mentioned some problems existed, however much it downplays them – dive into the reams of online articles published celebrating the arrival of the latest iPad, or those dealing with Apple’s decisions about what to do with the company’s $100billion surplus and you’d be forgiven for thinking that one of the world’s biggest companies conjures its pricey gadgets out of thin air. Read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and you’ll get no mention of Foxconn – despite the fact that Jobs gave a controversial interview on conditions in the Foxconn factories publicly at the D8 conference back in 2010. One of the few mentions Chinese manufacturing gets in Isaacson’s book is a passage where Jobs lectures President Obama:
[...]to prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.
Those darn regulations and costs eh – for things like health, safety, and factory ventilation perhaps?
So, when a journalist like Biggs says that Daisey, as a monologist, had ‘no business’ telling the story in the first place, it begs the question who does, and are they telling it correctly?
Daisey gave a lengthy talk at Georgetown University this week (included below), explaining his motives and his side of the retraction story. Interestingly Reuters journalist Mike Elk was at that talk and wrote:
Last night at Georgetown University, I stood up and applauded Mike Daisey after he was done speaking about why he lied. As a journalist, you are not supposed to stand up and applaud the people you’re covering, especially people who just admitted to lying about key details about workers they had (or hadn’t) met in China. However, Daisey hit on a fundamental truth about labor journalism in last night’s talk at Georgetown. He claimed he stretched the truth about his visit to a Foxconn factory in China as part of his play The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (which later became This Americans Life’s most downloaded episode) to dramatize a story of labor abuse that had largely been ignored. As a labor reporter who has often seen stories I have written about brutal working conditions ignored, I sympathized with Daisey and his broader critique of the problems of labor journalism.
Equally interesting is the fact that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak came out in defence of Daisey and his monologue, in an interview with CNET, saying:
I think his monologue has influenced Apple to take steps in that direction the best they can,” Wozniak said. “I don’t want to see that undone. Because people must know there are workers who can’t get medical coverage and are underage and are put on a blacklist that prevents them from getting work again. I applaud Mike Daisey because of the attention and understanding he has brought to this.
Before this scandal erupted Mike Daisey had placed his monologue online, for free download including a broad and open licence for the work to be modified, reproduced, and performed without fee. It’s still online here – you can download it, read it alongside subsequent reporting from the New York Times, Apple’s own audit from 2011, and reports from China Labour Watch and SACOM and then make an informed decision on what truth means.
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