Photo: Library of Congress, Lewis W. Hine, 1908
But if you think back to your eighth grade history class you might remember Charles Dickens, the Industrial Revolution, and the reason why child labor was finally banned in the US and labor laws were instituted. The Federal Wage and Hour Act was passed by the Supreme Court in 1941. Up until then women, men, and young children were forced to work appalling hours under inhumane conditions and state labor laws were widely ignored by most factories, farms and employers.
Photographer Lewis Hine was one of many people who fought to end the abuses being perpetrated on working men, women, and children. Like Daisey, his art was able to humanize a situation that many justified as the necessary price of advancement. Photos, like good stories, have the power to punch people in the gut in a way that facts, numbers and statistics fail to. The difference between Hine and Daisey is that Hine did not blur the truth; he trusted his images to speak for themselves.
Daisey used classic tools of great storytellers: exaggeration, time compression, and composite characters to create a powerful story “based on” truths. Several writers have gotten in trouble for falsifying memoirs—most notably James Frey who got publicly scolded by Oprah for fabricating major details in his best-selling memoir A Million Little Pieces. Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative Nonfiction explains, “There are lines—real demarcation points between fiction, which is or can be mostly imagination; traditional nonfiction (journalism and scholarship), which is mostly information; and creative nonfiction, which presents or treats information using the tools of the fiction writer while maintaining allegiance to fact.” Daisey, sadly forgot the latter.
Daisey made a serious mistake, but let’s not allow one man’s mistake to diminish the fact that he also illuminated some real injustices. As filmmaker Michael Moore said (prior to the scandal), “Mike Daisey, in addition to providing us with a riveting, hilarious, but ultimately gut-wrenching piece of theater, may actually end up being singularly responsible for bringing Goliath to its knees.” Apple has made some changes to its monitoring of labor abuses since the spotlight was turned on them. In 2005, it created a code of conduct suppliers. Last month, it became the first electronics company to join the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit labor monitoring group, and Foxconn said it would raise salaries by 16-20% and reduce working hours.
According to New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, Apple could still make a profit if you raised the price of the iPhone by $65 and “…from a labor perspective you could build the iPhone in the United States for just ten extra dollars a phone if you’re paying American wages.” Now, we can either focus on what Daisey did wrong, or we can refocus our attention on the more serious issue here: how can we eliminate labor abuse abroad if we insist on always having the latest technology as quickly and as cheaply as possible?
What is a green citizen to do?
- Sign a petition to stop labor abuses. Change.org and Sum of Us both have online petitions.
- Change your phone service to CREDO mobile where 1% percent of profits from your phone bill will go toward supporting social justice, environmental, civil rights and human rights causes and you get a voting say in what this company does!
- Boycott your local Apple Retailer
- Educate your friends. Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.