There have been alot of reports lately about Apple and its supply chain, specifically Foxconn. Nightline was granted access to Foxconn a few months ago, but the Foxconn stories began in 2010 following a series of worker suicides. The story was brought to theater by Mike Daisey in his play The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. His monologue (read the full text) has been widely popular. In it he claims to have visited Foxconn and visited with underaged workers and workers that had been disabled by their work at Foxconn. A few months ago he appeared on the Chicago show “This American Life.” They ran the story and reported his monologue as fact. They did a series of fact checks, but they did not talk with Daisey’s contact in China, known as Cathy. She was his interpreter and he lied to the show about her identity and would not provide her contact information. They were able to find her, however, and she refutes many of his claims. “This American Life” ran a retraction of their story and an interview with the interpreter. They also reinterviewed Daisey, who admitted that some of his monologue was fabricated. The retraction story delves deeper into the conditions of Foxconn, much like Nightline. It is worth the listen.
Daisey’s play has gotten the desired response. It has made many question and investigate Apple’s supply chain. Apple has been more open about their suppliers, but they have published yearly supplier reports since 2005 (read the most recent of these reports HERE). In it they detail the number of violations found (underaged workers, etc.) and they also list suppliers that they had severed ties with because they refuse to comply with Apple’s standards. Every year, they find violations and they have been criticized for not doing more to prevent violations of its own Code of Supplier Ethics. As far as I know, Apple is the only company to do this, and many other companies use Foxconn and the same supply chain as Apple. Apple has been reporting the problems in China for years, on their website for everyone to see. It has just taken us this long to see it for what it really is.
Since the investigation by “This American Life,” Daisey has changed his show so that the facts are better represented. Before being caught by “This American Life,” Daisey appeared on a number of news programs presenting his disturbing findings as fact. He has since admitted to some embellishment. While I believe it was wrong for Daisey to blatantly misrepresent his trip to China, it has called attention to working conditions in China. Conditions are not great, but one thing we have to keep in mind is that China is in the same position the United States at the turn of the century. In 1900, factory conditions in the US were not ideal and it took the Progressive Era for reforms to take place. There has not been a “Progressive Era” in China. Apple, companies and countries can apply pressure to China, but we cannot force reforms. This is side effect of industrialization and it will take time for laws to be put in place to end underage employment, low pay, long hours, and poor conditions. I hope, for the sake of the workers, that this happens sometime in the near future.