In February, Apple announced that it had become the first major technology company to join the Fair Labor Association and that this would involve sweeping audits of its suppliers:
As part of its independent assessment, the FLA will interview thousands of employees about working and living conditions including health and safety, compensation, working hours and communication with management. The FLA’s team will inspect manufacturing areas, dormitories and other facilities, and will conduct an extensive review of documents related to procedures at all stages of employment.
Apple’s suppliers have pledged full cooperation with the FLA, offering unrestricted access to their operations. The FLA’s findings and recommendations from the first assessments will be posted in early March on its website, www.fairlabor.org. Similar inspections will be conducted at Quanta and Pegatron facilities later this Spring, and when completed, the FLA’s assessment will cover facilities where more than 90 percent of Apple products are assembled.
This announcement came two weeks after the New York Times published a widely-read article about life in a Chinese factory, which used Apple and Foxconn as its case study:
It came about a month before most of the important details of Mike Daisey's monologue were revealed by Ira Glass to have been fabricated. (Daisey has fallen back on the idea that there is some greater "truth" that he was exposing, via his admitted lies.)
Daisey's monologue had been running since 2010. He's claimed that part of the impetus for performing Agony was that mainstream outlets had failed to adequately cover the story. Except, like much of what Daisey says, that's simply not true.
Tim Culpan, writing for Bloomberg:
Now let me tell you what I’ve seen at Foxconn. I’ve covered the company as a reporter for more than a decade, since before the iPhone was a twinkle in Steve Jobs’s eye and just after Foxconn landed Dell as a PC customer. Then in 2010, when a series of suicides caught the world’s attention and made sure you now know who makes your iPhone, my colleague Frederik Balfour and I started looking deeper. The result was “Inside Foxconn,” a 6,000-plus-word cover story for Bloomberg Businessweek.
There are other examples, and coverage of the 2010 suicides was fairly widespread.
More importantly, mainstream coverage was, by and large, accurate. (In fact, the only inaccuracy in the exposé by the New York TImes -- which has since been corrected -- was information that had been attributed to Daisey.) If you look at coverage by outlets like Bloomberg and the New York Times, you'll (now) find a notable absence of the sensational claims found in Daisey's monologue: No armed guards. No ruined hands based on extreme carpal tunnel. No widespread child labor.
When Apple first announced the FLA inspections, here's what Daisey had to say:
Meanwhile, Daisey has major problems with how the Fair Labor Association (FLA) is performing its audits on Apple factories. Daisey says he has been unable to find anyone associated with any labor organization who would go on the record to say that the audit is being performed in a “correct” or “typical” way.
The FLA denies that it is doing anything to whitewash the results of its audit, but Daisey is skeptical. Ultimately, he believes that real change will not be achieved until true NGOs that are not associated with corporations or governments can start setting the standards and overseeing these labor audits. Beyond that, the corporations themselves will need to be willing to make changes, even if it means giving up profit margins.
Daisey wasn't alone in suggesting that the FLA results would be a whitewash.
Yet, on Twitter, many are quick to credit Daisey for those investigations, as well as the results:
Looks like both @iraglass AND @mdaisey have both had a little win: Foxconn to Raise Salaries: http://nyti.ms/yXOzCu #thisamericanlife
@TayMilz: Fact: this probably wouldn't have happened without @mdaisey
So now that Apple's Foxconn factories officially have dangerous working conditions is anyone going to apologize to @mdaisey
@mdaisey This would not have been possible without your work. Thank you.
There's more where those came from, but the sentiment is repetitive.
All of the fawning support is absurd, though: Daisey has made a big deal out of the fact that his revised Agony monologue (yes, unbelievably, he's pressing on) will simply remove "six minutes" of content. What he fails to mention is that without those six minutes, he adds nothing new or interesting that hadn't already been reported by more responsible outlets -- including Apple's own supplier audits.
Daisey, for his part, simply linked away to a report on the FLA results, content to let others pat him on the back for lies told and truths he didn't uncover. No mention is made of his earlier skepticism.
So, a liar and a credit taker.
Here's what I had to say the day after Apple announced that they had joined forces with the FLA:
Let's assume that the report confirms the worst of our suspicions. (This is not an unlikely scenario.) Pundits and activists will, of course, cry foul and run with the idea that Apple is the root of all evil because, well, that's what pundits and activists do.
Why, though? It seems as though this is the time to expect (and encourage) Apple to do the extra measuring.
No one benefits if Apple rushes out a response. A band-aid won't cover this wound. The common criticism is that Apple is the only company with enough money to affect real change and, assuming that's true, they're also the one company that no one should want to rush.
This report is Apple's opportunity to step up and make something happen. Perhaps that something is a strict demand for change. Perhaps they throw billions of dollars at the problem. Perhaps Apple spearheads the tech industry's version of the Open Government Initiative and shames other companies into joining.
Perhaps it's a little of all of that. It's not going to be easy, though. There is no quick fix.
Results and recommendations are coming in early March. Tim Cook then has an opportunity. Anyone with a sincere interest in seeing real (and feasible) change in China needs to keep an open mind and see what he does with that opportunity. After all, the situation in China was decades in the making.
Let's not assume it's weeks in the solving.
The FLA's results are in (further and follow-up investigations are still planned) and they pretty much confirm the earlier (reliable) reports while simultaneously reinforcing the idea that Mike Daisey's lies, half-truths, and exaggerations were, well, just that.
A pledge by the manufacturer of Apple's iPhones and iPads to limit work hours at its factories in China could force other global corporations to hike pay for Chinese workers who produce the world's consumer electronics, toys and other goods.
Foxconn did not reveal how much it would raise wages or details on how its promises would be put into place. But the impact of Foxconn’s hour and wage reforms could signal a new, wide-reaching change in working conditions throughout China. Foxconn makes over 40 percent of the world’s electronics products — including for such brands as Amazon, Dell and Hewlett-Packard — and is China’s largest and most prominent private employer, with 1.2 million workers.
Additionally, Apple and Foxconn have agreed to pay any worker retroactively who hasn't received the correct overtime wages. Another audit is being conducted now to determine that amount.
Of course, as has always been apparent to those living in reality, for Chinese workers, nothing is black and white:
But at the Foxconn factory gates, many workers seemed unconvinced that their pay wouldn't be cut along with their hours. For some Chinese factory workers - who make much of their income from long hours of overtime - the idea of less work for the same pay could take getting used to.
"We are worried we will have less money to spend. Of course, if we work less overtime, it would mean less money," said Wu, a 23-year-old employee from Hunan province in south China.
Foxconn said it will reduce working hours to 49 per week, including overtime.
"We are here to work and not to play, so our income is very important," said Chen Yamei, 25, a Foxconn worker from Hunan who said she had worked at the factory for four years.
"We have just been told that we can only work a maximum of 36 hours a month of overtime. I tell you, a lot of us are unhappy with this. We think that 60 hours of overtime a month would be reasonable and that 36 hours would be too little," she added. Chen said she now earned a bit over 4,000 yuan a month ($634).
Such mistrust will only be cured by Foxconn's actions moving forward: Apple must hold Foxconn to its promises. Workers must be allowed to work less for the same pay, as Foxconn has pledged.
Only time -- and the diligence of responsible news outlets -- will tell.
Given Tim Cook's unprecedented trip to China, the thoroughness of the FLA's investigations, and the subsequent pledges made by Foxconn, it seems as though conditions may finally change for the better, and that change may not be limited to Foxconn.
No thanks to Mike Daisey.