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Apple, China, and Worker’s Rights

2012 March 18
by Shared by Steve Rust

A couple days ago, the public radio program This American Life ran a full episode retraction of an interview with writer Mike Davies that originally aired in January of this year.  Davies story had gone viral and become the most downloaded episode ever of the long-run show.

At issue are claims Davies made about a visit to China and visit to a factory making iPods and iPhones.  Apparently, while Davies’  broad claims about factory conditions at Apple plants are accurate, his story stretched the truth on numerous occasions and included such blatant lies as a claim that factory guards carry guns.

“To get a sense of what really is true of Apple’s working conditions in China, Ira talks to New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. Duhigg, along with Times reporter David Barboza, wrote the newspaper’s front-page investigative series in early 2012 about this subject. And while Duhigg won’t tell you how to feel about Apple and its supplier factories’ practices, he does lay out the options for how you could feel, in a very clear and logical way. Duhigg is also the author of The Power of Habit.”

What I am concerned about, however, is the fact that host Ira Glass justifies the fact that Apple workers regularly work over 60 hours/week because they are young and demand overtime.   Essentially, Glass takes the position that he is not going to “feel bad” or responsible for such conditions and while I understand the complexity of the issue I sensed that his commentary during the show could have been delivered by an executive from Apple.

Though I appreciate what This American Life has gone through to air this retraction, I am deeply disappointed that the show did not take this opportunity to do more to explain the environmental aspect of new media production nor connect the worker’s rights issue to the broader concerns of environmental justice. This feels like missed opportunity to make a stronger point rather than simply an apology.

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