PR spin is not saving Foxconn

Over the weekend Foxconn appears to have a PR victory when the radio programme “This American Life” retracted part of a broadcast critical of working conditions at one of its Chinese factories.

The retraction was because the show based too much on a stage shown a one-man theatrical show by actor Mike Daisey: “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

Daisey’s play and its attendant publicity, including the radio segment, played a big role in pressuring Apple to allow outside inspectors at its contract manufacturing facilities in China. However some of the play was shown to have been made up.

Over the weekend Apple fanboys were out in force quoting Steve Jobs as saying the Foxconn plant was “not a sweatshop” and, as told on Facebook,  “Mike Daisey is a lying bastard.”

But it seems that the pendulum is swinging back today. Daisey hit back at the spin saying  that given the tenor of the condemnation, you would think he had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components, or that he never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers. The attacks of the fanboys make it appear as if he had spread an elaborate hoax, he wrote.

“If people want to use me as an excuse to return to denialism about the state of our manufacturing, about the shape of our world, they are doing that to themselves,” he pointed out.
According to Reuters Foxconn is not off the hook with human rights groups or investors. It reported how the Hong-Kong based China Labor Bulletin said Foxconn employed harsh working conditions, while a fund manager with shares in Foxconn’s parent said investors were watching how the company treats workers.

Simon Liu, fund manager and deputy investment officer at Polaris Financial Group’s fund unit in Taipei said that the retraction only somewhat cleared Foxconn’s name, but not all the way. The press and stock investors will continue to watch how Foxconn treats its workers going forward.

Apple will have to start taking serious steps asking Foxconn to properly treats its China workers.

Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for workers’ rights group China Labour Bulletin, said workers at Foxconn were still subject to a list of poor working conditions, including long working hours, strict management that sometimes borders on abusive practice, and unsafe work practices in some factories.

He said that nothing had changed and he did not think there has been any alleviation of these problems in the past few months. He did not think that Foxconn’s had done anything.