NPR Retracts Apple Factory Exposé But Many Horrific Truths Still Remain

by , 03/19/12

Apple Labor Abuses, npr retraction, foxconn factories, apple, ipad, child labor, apple labor issues, apple factories

On Friday, NPR’s This American Life retracted its most popular episode ever (888,000 downloads): a stunning exposé of Apple’s employee abuses at Foxconn Technology, their supplier in Shenzen, China. The radio episode in question aired an excerpt from performance artist and monologuist Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man-show, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” In the show and in interviews with Ira Glass, Daisey claimed to have witnessed or heard firsthand reports of human rights abuses at Foxconn. But when Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz revealed that in fact several details in Daisey’s account were falsified, TAL retracted their show, airing a new interview with Daisey, who after a great deal of hedging, admitted to several lies. However, he justified his actions in his blog, “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.”

Would you boycott Apple products to force them to raise labor & environmental protections?

  • 335 Votes YES - Labor abuse is unacceptable in the name of technological progress.
  • 133 Votes NO - Apple's foreign labor policies are no worse than those of any other electronics manufacturer.
  • 19 Votes NO - I don't support Apple's labor policies but I need my iPhone!

View Results

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Apple Labor Abuses, npr retraction, foxconn factories, apple, ipad, child labor, apple labor issues, apple factories, lewis hines

Until TAL aired this episode, most Americans had never heard of Foxconn or Shenzen, the place where an estimated 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronics are created by over one million workers— not only for Apple but also for Amazon, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, I.B.M., Lenovo, Microsoft, Motorola, Netgear, Nintendo, Nokia and Samsung, Sharp, and Vizio, among others. Sadly, this only gave more ammunition to those who would like to bury some of the real truths that were brought to light by Mike Daisey and the many honest reporters who investigated this story over the years.

Here are the facts which remain well-documented:

  1. Over fifty percent of workers surveyed work over 60 hours per week. Some reports reveal that it is not uncommon for workers to work two twelve hour shifts back-to-back.
  2. 16 is the legal working age, although underage workers have been found by Apple inspectors and others. (Companies are known to falsify documents.)
  3. Workers live in cramped and barren dormitories housing 6-8 people per room, in company dorms that house 70,000 employees.
  4. Many workers experience leg pain, swelling, and serious repetitive stress injuries from standing or doing repetitive tasks, when they could easily be rotated or given more comfortable work-stations.
  5. 5. Apple has admitted to improper disposal of hazardous waste at many suppliers.
  6. Apple knowingly ignored hazardous aluminum dust pollution which ultimately led to two explosions killing four and injuring 77 employees.
  7. Apple’s own audits show that hundreds of employees were poisoned by n-Hexane in 2010 a chemical that causes nerve damage and paralysis. Apple claimed to have treated and monitored the patients, and fixed the ventilation at the plant in question. But the New York Times interviewed workers who were pressured to resign, take cash settlements and were never contacted about medical care. (These interviews prompted promises from Apple to do more.)
  8. 18 suicide attempts occurred at Foxconn over a two year period between 2008-2010 when workers “fell or jumped” from the building. One of these attempts occurred “…reportedly after losing an iPhone prototype.”

While Daisey should be taken to account for passing off theater (or a creative non-fiction monologue) as journalism, this does not diminish the fact that the abuses that are occurring at Foxconn and sweatshops globally should not be tolerated by American consumers.

Skeptics argue that Foxconn offers up good work for poor, uneducated, and unemployed Chinese citizens. David Pogue of the New York Times writes, “Apparently, even those conditions, so abhorrent to us, are actually better than these workers’ alternatives: backbreaking rural farm work…” Even Ira Glass began to wonder in his retraction, “Wait, should I feel bad about this?”

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  1. ggourdin March 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Since it is already well know that Apple that is not the only company to use Foxconn or other Chinese companies with similar labor practices, your poll is substantially misleading. The question should be: Would you boycott the products of all electronics companies to force them to raise labor & environmental protections? I would really be interested in seeing the results of that poll.

  2. bb_mke March 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    The headline on this is a little misleading and unfair. NPR did broadcast the story (so it shares the blame), but the content was created and produced by This American Life, Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International. NPR didn’t retract the story – TAL did. I mention this only because citing NPR in the headline (as so many publications have done) squarely places the blame on NPR. For people who believe funding NPR is frivolous, this is fuel for the fire. Since I love NPR (and TAL), I feel it’s important to keep the facts straight. Thanks for listening.

  3. meimei73 March 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    I think that these manufacturing practices are widespread and shouldn’t just be pinned on Apple. Also, I do agree with David Pogue: For most of these people, the Foxconn factory job is far better than most alternatives. I absolutely believe we should give the workers a voice and put pressure on Apple and other companies to put more humane laws/practices into place.

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