Apple, Foxconn Report Retracted by ‘This American Life’

The weekly radio program “This American Life” retracted a report on conditions of Chinese workers who construct Apple Inc. (AAPL) products, saying the broadcast contained “errors” and “fabrications.”

“We can’t vouch for its truth, and this weekend’s episode of our show will detail the errors in the story,” Ira Glass, host and executive producer of “This American Life,” wrote yesterday in a statement.

The broadcast, which first aired Jan. 6, focused on working conditions at Foxconn Technology Group (FOXCGZ), which manufactures products for Apple and other electronics makers. It centered on a monologue by Mike Daisey that contained statements later disputed and shown to be falsified, Glass said.

“Daisey lied to me and to ‘This American Life’ producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story,” Glass said in the statement. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”

Daisey, whose one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is currently running at the Public Theater in New York, responded to the retraction in a personal blog, saying, “I stand by my work.”

“’This American Life’ is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations,” Daisey wrote. “For this reason, I regret that I allowed ’This American Life’ to air an excerpt from my monologue. What I do is not journalism.”

Photographer: Ym Yik/EPA/Landov

Foxconn employees work on the production line at the Foxconn Lunghua plant in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province. Foxconn Technology Group announced on Feb. 18, 2012 that it has increased the base compensation for assembly line workers in its China operations by some 16 to 25 percent of previous compensation levels. Foxconn, the world's largest manufacturer of electronic components, made headlines because of a spate of suicides by employees. The Taiwan-based Foxconn produces components for Western electronics giants such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Close

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Photographer: Ym Yik/EPA/Landov

Foxconn employees work on the production line at the Foxconn Lunghua plant in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province. Foxconn Technology Group announced on Feb. 18, 2012 that it has increased the base compensation for assembly line workers in its China operations by some 16 to 25 percent of previous compensation levels. Foxconn, the world's largest manufacturer of electronic components, made headlines because of a spate of suicides by employees. The Taiwan-based Foxconn produces components for Western electronics giants such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

He didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

Foxconn Conditions

Emily Condon, a spokeswoman for “This American Life,” said the company plans to post a transcript of a show that elaborates on the retraction. “This American Life” airs on National Public Radio stations and is produced by Chicago Public Media and distributed by Public Radio International.

Daisey’s show centers on working conditions at plants that make products sold by Apple and other electronics manufacturers. Apple has begun subjecting factories of its suppliers to audits by an independent labor group following employee suicides and injuries and criticism from China Labor Watch, which cited instances of harmful conditions.

Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, declined to comment. Foxconn said it welcomed NPR’s move.

“I am happy that the truth prevails, I am glad that Mike Daisey’s lies were exposed,” Louis Woo, spokesman for Taipei- based Foxconn said by telephone today. “But I don’t think that the reports about this have gone far enough to find out what exactly is the truth. I hope NPR will go further and see what the real work conditions are at Foxconn.”

Fact Checking

After the initial broadcast focused on Daisey’s work, Rob Schmitz, a correspondent for American Public Media’s Marketplace publication, began questioning its validity.

“Marketplace had done a lot of reporting on Foxconn and Apple’s supply chain in China in the past, and Schmitz had first-hand knowledge of the issues,” according to Glass’s statement.

The “This American Life” program was downloaded 888,000 times, making it the most popular in the broadcast’s history. It prompted a listener to start a petition calling for better working conditions for Apple’s Chinese employees, according to the statement.

During the fact-checking process, Daisey lied about the name of his interpreter and said he had no way to reach her, because her mobile phone number no longer worked, Glass said.

“At that point, we should’ve killed the story,” Glass said. “But other things Daisey told us about Apple’s operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him.”

‘Human Truths, Story Form’

Contested information in the broadcast includes the number of factories Daisey visited, how many workers he spoke with and whether certain ones were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line.

“He evokes this image of a very, sort of, totalitarian state, and there is some broader truth to the things that he puts in his monologue, but from what we found, there are many things that don’t just check out,” Schmitz said in an interview today. “It is very compelling. It’s theater, right?”

New York-based China Labor Watch has said that workers making Apple products log 11 hours of work a day, six days a week, while production speeds are so high that workers aren’t able to rest while making iPads.

Foxconn employs more than 1.2 million people in over 18 countries, chairman and founder Terry Gou said Dec. 1. The company has operations in Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico, Slovakia and Vietnam in addition to its China factories.

Daisey’s work reveals “human truths in story form,” the Public Theater said in a statement.

“Mike is an artist, not a journalist,” the theater said. “Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Kucera in San Francisco at dkucera6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net

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