This American Life retracts Apple-bashing Foxconn report

The US radio show retracted a report on working conditions at Apple’s Chinese factories, after it emerged that several of the claims made were ‘falsehoods’.

Sam Kieldsen
2 min read

Popular US radio show This American Life has retracted a January report on working conditions at Apple’s Chinese factories, after it emerged that several of the claims made were ‘falsehoods’.

The broadcast in question was largely based on material from The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a one-man theatrical show by reporter and self-confessed Apple fanboy Mike Daisey -- and it now seems that much of it was, for want of a better phrase, a big bundle of guff.

This American Life is this week entirely devoted to the retraction and detailing the errors in the story. You can listen to it here if you wish, but essentially Mike Daisey spouted falsities both small (the number of factories he visited in China, for instance) and large. He claimed to have met iPhone assembly line workers that had been poisoned by a chemical called n-hexane. While Apple’s own reports show that n-hexane poisoning has occurred, it has never occurred at the factory that Daisey visited in Shenzhen.

In one particularly dramatic segment of his monologue, he also claimed to have met a man who had mangled his hand while assembling iPads -- and to have handed him a fully working iPad for the first time:

“He’s never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, ‘he says it’s a kind of magic.’”

Emotional stuff -- but complete hokum, as it turns out. The Cathy in question is Cathy Lee, Daisey’s interpreter during his trip -- and she says, after being eventually tracked down by the makers of This American Life, that the event never actually took place.

The now-retracted show, called ‘Mr Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory’, is This American Life’s most popular episode ever by podcast downloads, and was one of several recent examples of the media shining the spotlight on Apple and Foxconn’s factory conditions: The New York Times ran a series of articles and US TV channel ABC reported from inside a Foxconn plant. According to reports, 300 Foxconn staff threatened to commit mass suicide over pay at a plant dedicated to Xbox 360 production.

Apple has recently announced that working standards nonprofit Fair Labor Association would be invited to independently audit Foxconn City in Shenzhen.