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Two months ago, after reading the transcript of a public-radio show (“This American Life”) about Apple’s manufacturing processes, I wrote a post in which I relayed some details reported by Mike Daisey, the primary source for the show.I relayed the details because they seemed noteworthy and because I thought they were true.
Now, however, thanks to the suspicions of Rob Schmitz, an NPR reporter who has spent the past 18 months covering Apple’s supply chain, “This American Life” has discovered that Mike Daisey lied to its producers and the American public (and me) about what he saw in China. Daisey’s fabrications were so extensive, apparently, that the show felt compelled to retract the entire episode.
My reaction to “This American Life’s” original episode about Apple’s manufacturing processes was not unusual. The show compelled lots of people to say, basically, “Hey, wait a minute, maybe we should think more about how these electronic gadgets we love so much are made.”
The show was followed by an excellent series of articles by the New York Times and others that confirmed the general gist of what “This American Life” had reported. And this scrutiny compelled Apple to undertake an investigation of its own and take the unusual (for Apple) step of giving ABC News unrestricted access to the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen where so many Apple products are made. And it led Foxconn to giving some of its workers another raise. And so on.
So I think some good has come of this scrutiny and reflection.
I’d like to see Apple invest more of its cash mountain and share more of its humongous profits with its supply chain, just as I’d like to see Walmart, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and other huge, fantastically profitable American companies pay their employees more. But, unlike some Americans, I don’t blame Apple and other electronics manufacturers for building products in China.
Apple is a global company that sells gadgets in more than a hundred countries. For a combination of reasons, building such products in the United States these days is pretty much a non-starter. For example, Chinese workers are willing to work harder and for less than American workers, and the entire electronics supply chain is now located in China. And as Apple itself said in Charles Duhigg’s excellent New York Times article, fixing America’s employment and inequality problems is not Apple’s responsibility.
But, right now, all that is beside the point.
In relaying some details reported by Mike Daisey that have turned out to be lies, I was unfair to Apple and our readers.
I’m sorry about that.
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