After listening to the “retraction” podcast, I was amazed when Rob Schmitz pointed out the discrepancies in the Mike Daisey’s monologue. When I first heard the monologue last week, everything seemed to be fitting in well. Overall, I think TAL producers made a tremendous effort to fact-check the story. In fact, the story itself contained some erratic details that question that authenticity of the story. For instance_ the union workers meeting at Starbuck, and the factory guards who had guns. I think someone from China heard these and instantly recognized these details are bogus. The biggest reason I think Mike Daisey could create this monologue and make it air in TAL is that many of the chinese people have very limited access to internet. Illiteracy also plays a part in this but the most obvious hindrance is the government’s policies towards controlling information. The government doesn’t like people to listen to foreign media that points out the mismanagement of the current regime. (Even facebook is banned in mainland China. Instead they have a fabricated version of facebook that has the same functions as the authentic one)
I think Rob did a good job to track Cathy and get her version of the story despite all Daisey’s attempts to hide her identity. However, the events happened two years ago and Cathy’s memory may be hazy on some of the events. Further, I wonder why Cathy never ever learnt Mike Daisey made a monologue about his experience in China, given her profession as English interpreter. The monologue is a hugely popular story, posted on internet and I have no doubt a lot of educated chinese people came across it. If so, why didn’t anyone point out to Cathy about this?
Also Cathy denied ever seeing an underage worker at Foxconn but it is very likely that Mike might have actually seen one, given the fact that underage workers are very common in China and other third world countries. But the fact that Mike spoke with a factory girl in English is absolutely not true. In third world countries, learning English is a bit costly, and underage workers usually never get a chance to go to school. If someone has sufficient financial resources to learn English, why would that person still working at a factory in a poorly paid job?
The hexane story was mentioned several times in the podcast and I did a quick fact check on the toxicity of hexane. Rob questioned the authenticity of the story by asking the audiences “Have you ever seen someone that fits Daisey’s description _ someone whose hands are shaking violently that he can’t even hold a glass?” But according to the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet that list the potential harmful effects of hazardous chemicals), hexane actually is a neurotoxin and prolonged exposure to hexane disrupts nervous system and causes paralysis and muscle weakness. At least we can safely believe the fact that hexane exposure to workers actually happened at one of many Apple suppliers’ plant.
Near the end of the story where Ira and Duhigg discussed about why the harsh work conditions in Chinese factories exist, they blamed Apple for giving the supplier “razor thin profit margin” that they have no fund to promote the working conditions. I have to disagree with this because even if Apple gives them higher profit margin, it is still questionable whether the suppliers will spend money on the welfare of the workers, safe in the knowledge that they can still get away without doing it. Afterall, the whole purpose of outsourcing is because labor elsewhere is cheaper than building an entire automated production line in the United States. Further, the kind of flexibility available in oversea that they mentioned “Find professionals in 15 hours, make a nut and bolt in 6 hours” do not simply exist in third world countries, according to my experience. Here is a story on BBC news where Chinese government exercise tight controls over Linkedin website on mainland servers. How could you ever find 250 professional engineers in 15 hours when you don’t even have access to networking sites, such as Linkedin?
Overall, I think Daisey made a really great job at making up a story to make people care for chinese workers at Apple suppliers, even if the facts are not completely accurate. But with so many details contradicting the reality, the truth inevitably came out. In my opinion, the true experiences that Mike Daisey had at China are powerful enough to invoke reactions in the audience. Simply put, Mike Daisey’s action make people highly critical of anything about Apple and China, and that undermined everything that he was trying to do_ to make people care about harsh working conditions in Apple suppliers’ factories.