The ‘This American Life’ story about Apple’s Foxconn factory was partially fabricated

A woman walks past a building owned by the contract manufacturer Foxconn International Holdings Ltd in Shenzehn, China.

Back in January, the public radio program aired an episode that set the Internet on fire. “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” followed reporter Mike Daisey, a self-proclaimed Apple fanatic, as he traveled to China to investigate the working conditions in a factory that churned out iPhones on a massive scale. Daisey’s vivid descriptions of cramped, autocratic conditions at the factory quickly went viral:

The official work day in China is eight hours long, and that’s a joke. I never met anyone who had even heard of an eight-hour shift. Everyone I talked to worked 12-hour shifts standard, and often much longer than that, 14 hours a day, 15 hours a day. Sometimes when there’s a hot new gadget coming out– you know what the [BLEEP] I’m talking about– sometimes it pegs up to 16 hours a day. And it just sits there for weeks and months at a time, month after month after month, straight 16′s, sometimes longer than that.

While I’m in-country, a worker at Foxconn dies after working a 34-hour shift. I wish I could say that’s exceptional, but it’s happened before. I only mention it because it actually happened while I was there.

And I go to the dormitories. I’m a valuable potential future customer. They will show me anything I ask to see. The dormitories are cement cubes, 12-foot by 12-foot. And in that space there are 13 beds, 14 beds. I count 15 beds. They’re stacked up like Jenga puzzle pieces all the way up to the ceiling. The space between them is so narrow, none of us would actually fit in them. They have to slide into them like coffins.

There are cameras in the rooms. There are cameras in the hallways. There are cameras everywhere. And why wouldn’t there be? You know, when we dream of a future where the regulations are washed away and the corporations are finally free to sail above us, you don’t have to dream about some sci-fi dystopian Blade Runner/1984 bull****. You can go to Shenzhen tomorrow. They’re making your crap that way today.

The episode went on to become the most downloaded in “This American Life” history.

Unfortunately, it was made up. Or at least, parts of it were.

“This American Life” today retracted the story, alleging that it contained multiple falsehoods. According to a company press release:

Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey’s monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple’s audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.

The radio show is devoting an entire forthcoming episode to story behind the fabrications.

Daisey for his part has defended the segment, saying it was never intended to be taken as journalism. “My show is a theatrical piece,” he wrote on his blog. “It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.”

This news, of course, does not mean that everything at Foxconn is fine —150 workers there threatened to commit suicide if their working conditions did not improve — but it is more proof that if a story’s details seem too perfect, they probably are.


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