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Group seeks recall of Daisey-inspired petition on iPad labor

A Change.org petition signed by 255,000 people since January demanded Apple protect Chinese workers, but the document was based on actor's now debunked claims.

Representatives from Change.org were at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue two weeks ago to deliver a petition with 250,000 signatures calling for Apple to make sure overseas workers are treated properly.
Marguerite Reardon/CNET

A petition circulated on Change.org in January that targeted Apple -- demanding that it do more to protect workers in China who help build iPads -- was based on discredited claims and should be recalled, says a new petition.

More than 255,000 people signed the original petition posted to Change.org in early January by Mark Shields following a report about the human cost of Apple's labor practices on the radio show This American Life. The report has since been retracted by the show's producers.

Shields' petition, which called for Apple to create "a worker protection strategy for new product releases," was circulated prior to an expose published in The New York Times, which detailed numerous health and safety hazards at some of the factories working with Apple. That said, the Times did not verify some of the claims described in the This American Life report.

"The original petition is based on the testimony of Mike Daisey, which has been shown to be primarily fabrications and fantasy," wrote Paul Dost in the petition he posted to Change.org, which has been signed more 361 people as of today. "The power and efficacy of Change.org is diminished by allowing petitions that are based on lies."

The report from This American Life in January led to questions about Apple's record on employee welfare in China. The story and the subsequent retraction 10 days ago became a worldwide media sensation.

Included in This American Life's broadcast were excerpts of a monologue by actor Mike Daisey, who visited some of the factories in China where Apple products are assembled. Daisey, who stars in a one-man show about Apple called "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," claimed to have witnessed human suffering at the factories. He described seeing workers who were underage, disabled in workplace accidents, and poisoned by toxins.

Daisey has since acknowledged making up much of his story.

Some may ask, what's the difference? A couple weeks after This American Life broadcast, the Times verified the existence of harsh conditions at facilities operated by Foxconn and other companies that work with Apple in China. The trouble is that some of what Daisey described in his monologue and what was noted in the petition was never confirmed by the Times.

"Last week's This American Life shined a spotlight on the working conditions in the Chinese factories where iPhones are made," wrote Shields in his petition. "Just one example of the hardships there: the men and women in these factories work very long days spent repeating the same motions over and over which creates amped-up carpal tunnel syndrome in their wrists and hands. This often results in them losing the use of their hands for the rest of their lives."

The Times report, published on January 25, never once mentions repetitive stress or carpal tunnel.

Daisey also said he met people whose hands shook uncontrollably because of exposure to n-hexane, a toxic chemical, during his visit to a factory in Shenzhen. The Times reported that indeed n-hexane injured 100 workers at one factory. That facility was located 1,000 miles away from where Daisey visited.

So, if some of Daisey's accusations were false and if others weren't verified by the Times, why are only 360 people outraged enough to demand a recall?

That may have something to do with the problems that the Times did find at the factories, including evidence of a high number of suicides, overworked and underage employees, and a pattern of safety lapses. One problem involved a repeated failure to control aluminum dust, which resulted in multiple explosions that killed or injured dozens of workers.

One can presume the people who signed Shields' petition are satisfied knowing that just because Daisey is a less than credible witness doesn't mean Apple is without blame.

Update 9:40 a.m. PT Daisey took to his blog yesterday to post an apology to journalists, theater colleagues and his audience for misleading them. Daisey, however, did not apologize to Apple.