Radio program "This American Life" (TAL) has retracted a "partially fabricated" story about author and actor Mike Daisey's visit to Foxconn factories in China.
The retraction was announced on Friday (the same day that Apple's latest iPad went on sale) in a blog post by show host Ira Glass. "We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio," wrote Glass.
The blog post said that Daisey's story about Foxconn's massive Shenzen factory "contained significant fabrications."
"We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth," Glass continued. "This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show 'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,' in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products."
The episode, titled "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," aired on January 6. It detailed harsh working conditions in factories where employees assemble popular Apple devices and was excerpted from Daisey's one-man stage performance "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." Daisey claims to have met with underage workers, as well as workers suffering from Hexane poisoning. TAL's airing of the episode was a huge hit with audiences and was downloaded over 888,000, according to a press release attached to Glass' blog post on Friday.
The episode inspired a high-profile petition on Change.org that demanded Apple guarantee ethical treatment for factory workers in China and has thus far garnered over 250,000 signatures. The New York Times on January 26 published a damning story about apparent worker abuses at Apple supplier factories. On February 13, Apple announced that it had enlisted the Fair Labor Association to investigate worker conditions inside Chinese supplier factories, including several owned by Foxconn.
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out. [...] What I do is not journalism.
Glass alleges in his blog post that Daisey "lied" to TAL staffers who fact-checked the details of the story and said he will interview Daisey about these incidents in the show's next episode. A transcript of the exchange will be posted online along with audio on Friday, March 16.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reports on the Friday night interview between Daisey and Glass:
In this weekend's "This American Life," Daisey tells Glass he felt conflicted about presenting things that he knew weren't true. But he said he felt "trapped" and was afraid people would no longer care about the abuses at the factories if he didn't present things in a dramatic way.
"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," he tells Glass.
On February 21, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/nightline-apple-supplier-foxconn_n_1293393.html?ref=technology" target="_hplink">ABC aired a "Nightline" segment featuring Bill Weir's visit to a Chinese Foxconn factory</a> responsible for making some of Apple's popular devices. During a tour of the factory, Weir says he "expected more robots" but in fact most of the gadgets at Foxconn are made the old-fashioned way: The high tech parts are put together by hand. For example, iPhones are assembled by hand in 141 steps. One iPad takes five days to assemble and passes through 325 sets of hands.
Two shifts of workers toiling in 12 hour shifts can make 300,000 iPad camera modules in one day, not to mention shape sleek iPads out of "raw hunk[s] of aluminum" at a rate of 10,000 per hour. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">Image via Nightline</a>
Many workers live at the factory, where they pay $17.50 per month to live 7 to a room in Foxconn dormitories. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/connieguglielmo/2012/02/22/nightline-goes-inside-apple-factories-in-china/" target="_hplink">The average starting salary is $285 per month,</a> and workers must pay for their food. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">Image via Nightline</a>
Workers get two hour-long meal breaks during each 12-hour shift. They eat together in a cafeteria where they pay $.70 a meal. This is about a quarter of their hourly wage. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">Image via Nightline</a>
In 2010, after a spate of suicides at Foxconn's Shenzen plant, then COO Tim Cook flew to China to investigate the matter. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">According to Nightline,</a> Cook put together a team of psychiatric experts to examine the issue. It was at that team's suggestion that the infamous nets were installed between the buildings to prevent suicides. There have been 18 worker suicides at Foxconn since 2010. <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/15/us-china-apple-idUSTRE81E1FQ20120215" target="_hplink">According to Reuters' interview with Fair Labor Association president Auret van Heerden, the group's initial findings from its audit of Foxconn</a> suggested that the suicides could have been "a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."
Weir said he was surprised to see how young the workers were. He said many were in their late teens and no one looked like they could be over 30. Many had left their hometowns, oftentimes in the countryside, in order to get jobs at Foxconn. Weir also toured Chengdu and spoke with the relatives of workers who had left for jobs at Foxconn. According to Cult of Mac, <a href="http://www.cultofmac.com/147878/foxconn-employees-say-underage-workers-were-hidden-before-fla-inspection/" target="_hplink">Foxconn may have hidden underage employees</a> when the Fair Labor Association conducted its inspections. While Apple allows for workers as young as sixteen to assemble their products, those eighteen and under are afforded "special protections," <a href="http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/12/02/22/factory_workers_claim_foxconn_hid_under_age_employees_before_fla_inspection.html" target="_hplink">according to Apple Insider.</a> These include not being allowed to perform some tasks and working shorter hours than older workers.
When asked how Foxconn would react if Apple suggested doubling workers' pay, Foxconn executive Louis Woo told Weir that the company would welcome a raise for employees. "Why not?" Woo said. "That would be good for the employees and also definitely good for China and good for us."
Workers have to wear static-proof jackets and take "air showers" to make sure the work area remains dust-free. Even one spec of dust could prove ruinous to the iGadgets' delicate innards. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55173552/nightline-221-apples-chinese-factories-exclusive" target="_hplink">Image via Nightline</a>