SEATTLE, Wash. -- The claims made by one of Apple’s harshest critics regarding labor practices in China are now in serious doubt.
KOMO News interviewed Mike Daisey when he was in Seattle in May 2011 performing his one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” Daisey went on to tour the country and is currently performing in New York. Daisey’s monologue was also excerpted as part of public radio program “This American Life.”
Late this week “This American Life” announced its show producers were retracting the story and released a written statement that said the episode contained “numerous fabrications” and that they “can’t vouch for the truth of Mike Daisey’s monologue about Apple in China.”
Last year Daisey, a former Seattle artist himself, told KOMO News that the millions who own iPhones, iPods or other Apple devices need to be made aware of the hardships that factory workers endure to make them.
At the time, the company was making headlines over its Chinese supplier, who was accused of forcing factory workers to sign non-suicide pledges.
Daisey claimed to have learned of the agony of workers after going undercover in factories in China.
"I posed as an American businessman," he said at the time. "I made fake business cards and pretended I was looking for suppliers."
Daisey claimed he had seen underage workers. He said he had seen the suicide nets being installed around the workplace. He told KOMO News he witnessed employees working 32 hour shifts.
Now it is unclear whether any of those claims are true.
Rob Schmitz, China correspondent for radio show “Marketplace,” investigated Daisey’s claims. “This American Life,” in its statement, stated Schmitz had located Daisey’s Chinese interpreter who disputed much of what the performer has been telling audience since 2010.
Ira Glass, executive producer and host of This American Life, said in the statement that the show’s producers had no reason to doubt Daisey’s claims at the time the broadcast aired.
“We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story,” wrote Glass. “That was a mistake."
In the statement, “This American Life” said:
Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey's monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple's audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.
"It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou," Marketplace’s Schmitz says in his report. "I’ve interviewed these workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey’s monologue on the radio, I wondered: How’d they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could’ve met a few of them during his trip."
In Schmitz's report, he confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to fabricating these characters.
"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," Daisey tells Schmitz and Glass. "My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it's not journalism. It's theater."
Among the other claims, Daisey’s interpreter has now disputed is the story he told KOMO News about meeting underage workers at the Foxconn factory.
Daisey performed his one-man show at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in May of 2011. Late today the theatre issued a statement in support of Daisey and his work.
“As an artistic institution that strives to produce thought-provoking and entertaining work, Seattle Repertory Theatre has always had a strong relationship with Mike Daisey. We stand by him as an artist and performer,” said Artistic Director Jerry Manning.
“This American Life” plans to devote its entire program this weekend to explaining its retraction and investigation into Daisey’s statements.