pulling a Johann, Foxconn edition

So US public radio put out a documentary in January featuring an imaginative fellow called John Daisey, who produced a hard hitting report on conditions at the Foxconn plants that make various Apple devices, among other things (for the record, the group of employees in Wuhan who threatened mass suicide recently were making Xbox 360s). Anyway, it turned out to be the most popular episode ever, went viral, inspired all sorts of activism, all that good stuff. But:

Daisey's interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey's story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads (and that Daisey's iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation). Daisey says in his monologue:

He's never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, "he says it's a kind of magic."

Cathy Lee tells Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.

This chap never appeared on film. Maybe it was because he thought the camera would steal his soul. I don’t think you need any more than an absolutely rudimentary awareness of China to find that incredible. By rudimentary, I mean knowing that it makes a huge proportion of the world’s gadgets or that it has massive levels of internet and mobile device penetration and is generally device crazy. Or that a culture in the throes of mass industrialization might in fact be quite materially aware. Above all, would you assume it was a credible assertion that someone on a production line would think their finished product was ‘a kind of magic’ if that production line was in Europe or the US?

The sad thing is that it’s probably this kind of mysticism that helped drive the appeal of the programme: people pretty much like us in most material particulars wanting to earn a decent living’ doesn’t seem to excite much in the way of solidarity. ‘Hands off the munchkins': that’s the way to go.

In fairness, the show has put out a detailed, almost grovelling retraction, which identifies failures in fact checking as the main cause of the problem. I'd say it was more a matter of assumption checking.

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