Should we feel bad about working conditions at FoxConn?

Lost in the uproar over Mike Daisey’s significant fabrications about Chinese working conditions is what Ira Glass calls the “normative question underlying all the reporting… as somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad?” As I’ve stated before — and as the New York Times’ own investigative report showed — the story about working conditions at Apple suppliers is essentially true. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether any of this is acceptable, keeping in mind that, a century ago, working conditions in America were equally if not more harsh. Let me view this whole episode through the lens of another product that’s just as valuable to New Yorkers as smartphones: the subway system. Continue reading

This American Life retracts FoxConn story

Just as I was out doing research on a long-delayed blog post about working conditions in Apple’s factories, the news that This American Life is retracting its episode “Mr. Daisey Goes To The Apple Factory” hit my inbox. While it’s regrettable that — if it’s true, because at this point, who knows what to believe — Daisey fabricated parts of his account, the whole episode overshadows the fact that many of the conditions described in his piece are actually true. They’ve been reported elsewhere, including the New York Times. FoxConn workers have committed suicide over long hours and low pay. Many other companies in China do employ the same labour practices. And, of course, it’s obviously true that Apple has outsourced manufacturing work to China exactly because the costs are lower, even though Steve Jobs used to be proud that Apple Macintosh computers were manufactured in the United States.

The public (and This American Life listeners) will now be left with an hour-long, self-flagellating examination of how authenticity and credibility in journalism has yet again been ruined. Mike Daisey will be branded as just another John D’Agata, someone who invents facts for no better reason than that it makes for a better story. (I wonder what kind of service he’ll get now when he calls AppleCare.) And, as iPad 3 sales exceed sales records, Apple’s share price will hit $1,000 in the next six months and be a better capitalized company than the lowest 50 countries on the Human Development Index combined, while everyone forgets about the actual issue that was being addressed here: appalling labour practices in overseas factories making electronic widgets for the developed world.

Shame on you, Mike Daisey. Not being a “journalist” is no reason to lie. And now you have done more damage with a bunch of fabrications than if you had just stayed home and not “reported” this story.