he popular public radio program This American Life has retracted a story it aired in January in which theatrical monologist Mike Daisey claimed to have uncovered abuses at Apple supplier Foxconn, a Chinese factory which manufactures iPhones and iPads. A reporter contacted the translator who worked with Daisey, and she contradicted many of his claims — that he had met underage workers, for instance, or encountered laborers who'd been poisoned with chemicals used on the assembly line. "Daisey lied to me," the show's host, Ira Glass, has said. Daisey confessed that he had taken "a few shortcuts" in the story — an excerpt from his one-man show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs — but that other people had seen the things he described. Is Apple off the hook, or is there enough truth to the stories to justify the pressure the company is feeling to improve its labor practices?
This is a big break for Apple: Daisey's defense is that he tweaked the facts for dramatic effect, says Scott Rosenberg at Grist, but that's a cop out. His theater audiences and the listeners who made his episode of This American Life its most downloaded podcast ever, believed he was telling them facts. And now, even though The New York Times and others have reported similar abuses, every effort to make Apple customers aware of its labor practices is "tarred by Daisey's failure."
"Mr. Daisey and the fact factory"
Apple still has plenty to answer for: There's a good reason why Apple didn't call Mike Daisey a liar before Ira Glass did, says Philip Elmer-DeWitt at Fortune. "Apple knew that the issues Daisey described were real." Some workers really have been poisoned by N-hexane, a chemical used in the making of iPhones, and others have been killed by dust explosions. Daisey's fudging doesn't give Apple a clean slate — conditions really are harsh in Chinese factories.
"Apple and the Daisey affair"
Daisey still might get the last laugh: Apple shouldn't take too much comfort in the tarnishing of Mike Daisey's reputation, says Jeff Yang at The Wall Street Journal, adding "there's a huge human cost to the creation of cool devices," and Apple is under mounting pressure to "change the way things are done for the better." Apple CEO Tim Cook has ordered the elimination of abuses from the company's supply chain — "and that, in no small part, is due to Mike Daisey."
"The agony and ecstasy of Mike Daisey"
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