In January, This American Life broadcast a piece called Mr. Daisy and the Apple Factory, a version of a one man show by Mike Daisey which saw him go to China to get to the bottom of Apple’s trade practices with Foxconn. Well, now TAL has retracted the episode, and run the retraction as a full-length episode in and of itself.
Daisey’s exposé was seminal in triggering a major wave of consumer pressure on Apple for worker abuse — except now it seems that much of the evidence about worker abuse he completely fabricated. He never met workers poisoned by n-hexane, never met underaged workers or a man with a horribly damaged hand.
The story fell apart thanks to Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who tracked down Daisey’s original translator, and exposed the discrepancies between her report and his.
Daisey has responded on his site, defending his actions, calling it “theatrical”. Except that it was reported as fact in multiple outlets and many interviews after the fact.
While additional checks on worker safety and policies are never a bad thing — especially in countries like China with poor labor laws — actions like this are intensely damaging. It has put a huge amount of pressure on Apple, who have a comparatively good background in China, and damages the cause of labor reformers who use actual evidence.