In early January, one of my favorite radio programs, “This American Life”, aired it’s most popular episode to date. A first-person chronicle condemning Apple’s supply chain, the episode is anchored by Mike Daisey’s story of a 2010 visit to China to see how his iPad was made.
Daisey spoke with 12- and 13-year-old workers at Foxconn, an electronics company based in China that manufactures Apple products. He interviewed employees that had suffered poisoning and disfigurement, was intimidated by guards with guns, and toured the workers’ prison-like living quarters. It was all very eye-opening and shocking.
What made Daisey’s account so compelling and heart-wrenching, however, was the personal nature to it, particularly a description of a dismembered worker playing with an iPad for the first time.
When Rob Schmitz, American Public Media’s “Marketplace” China correspondent heard the story, some details didn’t seem to make sense. After speaking to Daisey’s interpreter and thoroughly fact-checking the story, turns out there was a hitch.
Daisey’s story wasn’t true. He made most of it up, and “This American Life” was forced to devote the entirety of its latest episode to retracting the story and clarify fact from the fiction.
Just like that, thousands of concerned Americans who had trouble sleeping next to their precious iPads breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Not so fast. I’ll give Daisey a little credit here, Foxconn is hardly innocent. It has been guilty of employing minors before, and there have been health problems attributed to the chemical used to clean iPhone screens. But, none of these happened at the factory that Daisey visited.
Fighting for child labor laws and supply chain accountability are good and just causes, but when you outright lie to advance your cause, you lose all of your legitimacy.
Herein lies the problem when the face of a movement publicly disgraces himself (See: Jason Russell of Invisible Children). About the same time that Daisey’s story ran on “This American Life,” The New York Times ran a series exposing the large human cost of Apple’s supply chain. Unfortunately, thanks to Daisey, no one is talking about that any longer.
Americans are often looking for a reason not to care (See: Climate gate). Don’t get lazy–think critically and don’t let a media sideshow take away from the real issue at hand, whether it be abducted child soldiers, climate change, or access to contraception, or bad working conditions,