That stuff is true: This American Life's "Retraction"

Ira Glass: We did factcheck the story before we put it on the radio. But in factchecking, our main concern was whether the things Mike says about Apple and about its supplier Foxconn, which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It’s been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists, studies by advocacy groups, and much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports.

0:41-1:03, This American Life #460

(emphasis added, as it will be below. The following quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the same episode of This American Life.)

Apple really cares about improving things when it comes to their products, you can see it with every yearly iteration. What about the yearly iteration of other things?

Charles Duhigg: So in 2005, Apple created what was called the Supplier Code of Conduct. And the Supplier Code of Conduct said that these are the standards that we expect anyone who’s making an Apple product to abide by. One of those, and in fact that one that’s probably most violated, is that they said that no one should work more than 60 hours per week that’s working inside a factory that’s making an Apple product.

We know from Apple’s own audits and the reports that have published that at least 50 percent of all audited factories, every year since 2007, have violated at least that provision. More than half of the workers whose records are examined are working more than 60 hours per week.

From the newspaper that signed on to "enhanced interrogation techniques," let's now explore "harsh work conditions,"

Charles Duhigg: So I think when we talk about the conditions inside where Apple products are made, we can sort of put them into two buckets. There’s basically harsh work conditions; people being asked to work shifts that are too long; people being asked to stand or sit in backless chairs; people being asked to work in plants that are still under construction. Or, people living in dorms that are provided by the companies, Foxconn and others, where they say that those conditions – the living conditions – are harsh. Workers have told us where they are live in dorm rooms where there’s anywhere from 12 to sometimes 20 or 30 people stuffed into a single apartment. So, it’s very, very crowded, very unpleasant conditions. That’s the first bucket of issues.

Shit, what's an extra 20 or 30 hours a week, amirite? It's just time, after all. "Overtime."

Time matters. A lot. Like international treaties a lot:

I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?

- Donald Rumsfeld

Nothing to see here! No sweatshop here! All we've got is some "harsh work conditions," that's all. Things are merely "very unpleasant." Y'know, like cleaning a really dirty bathroom!

Nothing like working that 24-hour shift to go back home to your apartment you're sharing with 30 people. That's totally just "how 'developing' nations work." Why hold people to "Western standards" when you can stuff 30 people in a room and work them 24-hours straight!

Language matters. On the proper way to refer to a spade:

Some in the US press have been hesitant to call enhanced interrogation torture because as Paul Kane of the Washington Post explained, torture is a crime and nobody who engaged in "enhanced interrogation" has been charged or convicted.[68]The New York Times terms the techniques "harsh" and "brutal" while avoiding the word "torture" in most but not all[69] news articles,[70] though it routinely calls "enhanced interrogation" torture in editorials.[71] Slate magazine terms enhanced interrogation the "U.S. torture program."[72]

Following NPR's controversial ban on using the word torture[73] and Ombudsman Alicia Shepard's defense of the policy that "calling waterboarding torture is tantamount to taking sides",[74]Berkeley Professor of Linguistics Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out that virtually all media around the world, other than what he called the "spineless U.S. media", call these techniques torture.[75][76] In an article on the euphemisms invented by the media that also criticized NPR, Glenn Greenwald discussed the enabling "corruption of American journalism":

This active media complicity in concealing that our Government created a systematic torture regime, by refusing ever to say so, is one of the principal reasons it was allowed to happen for so long. The steadfast, ongoing refusal of our leading media institutions to refer to what the Bush administration did as "torture" -- even in the face of more than 100 detainee deaths; the use of that term by a leading Bush official to describe what was done at Guantanamo; and the fact that media outlets frequently use the word "torture" to describe the exact same methods when used by other countries --reveals much about how the modern journalist thinks.[77]

There's little wonder that the New York Times didn't create a stir when it reported on conditions in China. Some might say it's because the reporting wasn't particularly sensational or noteworthy, that it showed that the situation on the ground wasn't particularly bad. Maybe so, but no one's going to listen to an organization that's discredited itself, lost moral standing, practiced irresponsible journalism and become increasingly irrelevant or suspect to insiders in many fields it covers and to most of the public more generally. Other organizations? Sure, because you really see those organizations making a splash all the time. I'm sure you all knew about Kony before that video went viral too. Is lying wrong? Yes. Was telling the truth making a difference? Maybe. Slowly. Maybe.

Here's what it looks like to a lot people: all of a sudden a Mike Daisey monologue goes viral and factories conditions maybe start improving. Pressure gets ratcheted up. People start talking about making Apple products in the US or other places. People start caring.

I know we'd all like to think the truth should be enough, but sometimes, maybe, it's not.

But enough of that, let's continue with more from the show:

Charles Duhigg: The second bucket, which is much smaller, is actually safety and life-threatening issues. And what we know about those conditions are isolated incidents that either injured or claimed lives. So, one of the best examples of this was last year within a seven-month period there were two explosions inside factories where iPads were being produced that killed four people and injured 77 others. Both of those explosions were caused by dust that’s created through the process of polishing the aluminum that makes up the case of the iPad. Prior to those explosions, there was a report released by this group SACOM, or Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior.


Ira Glass: Yeah, you write in your article-- you point out that the second explosion happened seven months after the first one. And you quote a man named Nicholas Ashford, who's a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, which advises the US Department of Labor. He said, "It's gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected."

He said, "If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It's called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago."

Nice to hear that the explosion bucket is "much smaller." Well, I would fucking hope it would be much smaller! Sometimes people have a hard time hearing how they come across: "Well, sure, there were  only 91 instances of underage workers out of hundreds of thousands. That's nothing as a percentage!" Yeah, I would hope so! We don't say, "Oh, listen, we've got 500 workers here, a few get raped a year. Nothing we can do about it. It's like less than one percent!" Who talks this way and doesn't know how they sound?

Finally, let's get back to what Ira Glass seems more than a bit concerned with in this episode: Ira Glass

Ira Glass: But to get to the normative question that's kind of underlying all the reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when we hear this is like, "Wait, should I feel bad about this?" As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad? And I don't know that I feel so bad when, when I hear this.

Charles Duhigg: So it's not my job to tell you whether you should feel bad or not, right? I'm a reporter for the New York Times, my job is to find facts and essentially let you make a decision on your own. Let me, let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will. And that argument is there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again. And what has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation.

And lest you think I've got some anti-Apple ax to grind, listen to this grubby Apple hater:

I think Mike Daisey got Apple and other companies more attuned to the issue--to do the most they can to make corrections. That's my impression about what has happened. His method succeeded.

- Steve Wozniak