BSR: New York Times’ Apple-Foxconn article contains untruths, inaccuracies, and misleading info

Earlier this week, BSR asked the New York Times to correct inaccurate and misleading information in the story that ran on January 26, 2012 entitled “In China, the Human Costs That Are Built Into an iPad.”

The following is BSR’s letter to the editor that they submitted following publication of the article, as well as the main points BSR made to the New York Times in a letter sent on January 17, prior to publication. While some changes were made to the story, we believe that several important inaccuracies and misleading information remained in the story that was published on January 26.

Dear Editors,

I am writing in response to The New York Times article ‘In China, the Human Costs That Are Built Into an iPad,’ published on January 26 by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza.

This article shines a light on important supply chain issues that are a crucial part of the global economy—one of the sustainability challenges BSR has worked on with business and other stakeholders for 20 years. Unfortunately, the article mistakenly attributes several quotes to an unnamed “BSR consultant,” presenting a false impression that those views should be associated with BSR.

While the story focuses on Apple, the question of conditions in global supply chains is of immense importance to all companies, in all sectors. There is no doubt that, while more and more companies are committed to ensuring good working conditions in their supply chains, additional steps should be taken. The key to progress is a combination of renewed commitments by the private sector, better enforcement of laws by governments, collaboration between businesses and NGOs, and worker empowerment. Global companies who are active in this space know that long-term, sustainable change takes time and requires many players working together.

This goes to the heart of our work at BSR. We remain intensely committed to helping global companies work effectively with government, consumers, workers, and civil society to create a more sustainable future.

Aron Cramer
President and CEO, BSR

MacDailyNews Note: BSR’s mission is “to work with business to create a just and sustainable world.”

A leader in corporate responsibility since 1992, BSR works with its global network of more than 250 member companies to develop sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration. With offices in Asia, Europe, and North America, BSR uses its expertise in environment, human rights, economic development, and governance and accountability to guide global companies toward creating a just and sustainable world.

Summary of BSR’s pre-publication letter to the New York Times on January 17, 2012

The following is a summary of the main points BSR made to the New York Times on January 17, in response to information about the story that they were provided prior to publication.

There are several areas where the text you provided us is inaccurate and therefore presents an inaccurate account of events you aim to describe.

BSR does not believe that Apple has consistently disregarded its advice.

1. It is untrue that Apple has consistently disregarded advice that BSR has provided about problems related to working conditions in its supply chain.

2. The account of the pilot project in south China omits and obscures key facts. Despite the publication of a report that has been in the public domain for several years, there are errors in how you present the project conducted under the auspices of the World Bank, BSR, and three other sponsors.

3. Your attribution of several opinions about Apple to BSR misstates the views of the organization. In several places, you attribute certain opinions about Apple to an unnamed “BSR consultant,” despite the fact that this consultant is unnamed, and are not affiliated with BSR. Associating these views with BSR is a serious misrepresentation, and should be changed.
The narrative you present is an inaccurate picture of the work we have done with Apple, of the role Apple played in the worker hotline project, and of BSR’s views of Apple.

A copy of BSR’s complete letter submitted to the New York Times on January 17, 2012 is available (.pdf) here.

MacDailyNews Take: The New York Times. Untrue, inaccurate, and misleading.

Read more about supplier responsibility at Apple here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Your iPhone has to be made In China, and Apple can’t absolve your guilt (if you have any) – January 28, 2012
Apple CEO Tim Cook calls New York Times supplier report ‘patently false and offensive’ – January 27, 2012
In China, human costs are built into iPads and tens of thousands of other non-Apple products – January 26, 2012


        1. And just as another observation… I think you’d be surprised at the level of quality I’ve seen coming from Al jazeera.

          As far as geopolitics is concerned, I’m completely in love with STRATFOR.COM, though I think they seriously need some IT help.

      1. I know that the polarization of our nation is extremely evident even on a website dedicated to all things Apple, but dragging the WSJ down to the level of the New York Times is at least unfair.

        I read the NY Times almost every day. It’s free. I have one browser dedicated to it, so that I can keep emptying the cache in order to not pay. The Times constantly sensationalizes. It’s as if there is a headline department that makes sure that each headline conveys a specific political point of view, knowing full well that there are people who only read the headlines.

        I also read the WSJ everyday, and watch FOX business all day long while working.

        In the NY Times you get headlines that say (gasp) “The Human Cost of iPhones is factored in.”

        In the WSJ the headline says, “Read Apple’s Report on Factory Working Conditions.” It’s utterly matter of fact with all the emotional drama, designed to damage Apple’s reputation, left out. It goes on to say,

        “…Apple disclosed a comprehensive list of its major suppliers for the first time, the WSJ’s Jessica Vascellaro is reporting.

        Apple’s list of 156 companies includes a range of global technology companies, such as Sony and Intel, along with Hon Hai (Foxconn) and niche regional businesses such Tianjin Lishen Battery Joint-Stock Co. Click here to read the full list…”

        I ask you, who is more trustworthy based on this example, which I find extremely typical.

        In addition, you mention FOX. FOX did an entire segment that I watched concerning Apple. Unlike MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, The NY TIMES, PBS, THIS AMERICAN LIFE, and on and on… they mentioned Apple at the beginning but go on to state that working conditions are not created by Apple and that these companies do work for almost all major global technology companies, not just Apple and that Apple’s current spectacular success makes it easy to single them out. iPhone, iPads, and various Android devices were mentioned.

        I’m sorry, but judging by what I observe on a daily basis, the WSJ and FOX consistently do a better job of representing fact and not attempting to slip emotional verbiage into reports. They have clearly labeled editorials that are represented as opinion, but they don’t feature opinion as fact.

        It is also my observation that people who complain about FOX, don’t watch it. It’s just a refrain from the cultural bubble they choose to sequester themselves in. This is not fair to other media outlets and it is not fair to them when they do this. Don’t just assume because all your friends and associates say FOX is bad that this is the truth, any more than Apple is running slave factories in China. The truth is that we have a tendency to seek out media that we think supports our ideologies.

        You have to get out of that. If you spend an hour watching CNN, ABC, CBS, and so on, you need to spend an hour watching the only network that has a different view point… i.e. FOX.

        Also take note of the fact that when left leaning individuals take issue with any network, it is always FOX. So you have all these people, who likely don’t watch FOX, upset with it. Just one network out of the many, and that should tell you something right there about the state of the media. Just one network seems to make the left angry. Not 4 or 5, just one. And when only one network annoys that many people so much, you need to wonder what is being said that draws so much attention.

        When all the other networks are just dandy, that should make you HIGHLY skeptical of those networks.

        1. Actually, my pet peeve is “business” people who assess the production of their employees by how hard they seem to be working. You pay a salary to obtain the desired results by a desired deadline. Any other measure is irrelevant.

        2. There is a reason FOX is the #1 news program on TV. While they have commentators with definite political biases, their news reporting is factual, not emotionally biased towards an agenda.

          Today’s liberal uses emotions as a reasoning tool, and to hell with logic and facts. Those just get in the way of their agenda.

          I don’t like Savage Nation (haven’t listened to him in years), but he’s right when he says that liberalism is a mental disease.

        3. Ha.Ha.Ha.Ha.Ha.Ha.Ha. I could go on for hours typing Ha. The only facts that Fox News reports are those that the small minded right wing conservatives could stand to enter their brains. Any other fact (let’s see, global warming, big Oil abuse, financial and banking abuses, economic disaster, low-income crisis, etc, etc, etc, – I could go on for hours typing etc).

          The NY Times article was false only in it’s emphasis on Apple and would have been much better received if it had been written from the viewpoint of all US technology production and the World-wide competition for cellular phones and other high-tech consumer products.

          Liberalism is a mental disease – scratch a conservative and you’ll find them bleeding for the loss of their importance.

        4. Yes, you may be right about certain things not wanting to be discussed by conservatives (i.e.- global warming, big Oil abuse, financial and banking abuses, economic disaster, low-income crisis). However what about those things which, it seems, are only discussed on FOX, that liberals don’t much seem like talking about. You know, things like the cost of the welfare state, gentrification being a good thing for communities, government mandated health care, the Medicare and Social Security Trust Fund crisis (which FYI was caused by LBJ), Government intrusion into almost every facet of our lives, etc., etc.

          No one should get all of their info from any single source.

          To wit: you said “The NY Times article was false only in it’s emphasis on Apple”. Did you actually read the Times article? Did you even read this article and the rebuttal from the BSR stating that there were in fact several inaccuracies and outright falsehoods? Can you read at all?

          I believe Thelonious Mac is right that someone like you has probably never even watched FOX simply because it doesn’t fit with your ideology. You don’t want to know what or how they think or why, you just wish they would go away. And you say right wing conservatives are small minded.

          As for me, I choose to remain open minded to other points of view and opinions, even if I strongly disagree with them. Oh, and one more thing, I constantly question and challenge my own opinions. I always question the validity of my beliefs and the solidity of my arguments. One can only do this by being objective, open minded and by gathering info from any and all sources, viewpoints, perspectives and yes EVEN OPINIONS.

          Opinions are neither right or wrong, they just are. Facts are different, however most of which is called fact is at best only half true. There are always 2 sides to a coin and if you’re only willing to look at one side then your “Facts” are half truths and not all that much different from opinion.

    1. Better not. That ink may rub off and it’s not healthy. Even though the NY Times and other newspapers claim to have stopped using the old toxic printer’s ink, you’d have to believe them—and believing their claims in general is at issue here.

      Especially, don’t wipe with a sheet printed before 1970, when neurotoxins saturated the ink they used. (Come to think of it, the senior editors’ constant exposure to the stuff may indicate…nah.)

  1. The bottom line here is greed and money. All partied involved care about one thing and one thing only is money. If suppliers and manufactures cared about the well being of their works they would have systems in place to make sure their safety was paramount. Since there is a non-stop supply of workers in vast numbers companies don’t care as they treat them like cattle. The bottom line will be the only thing they care about and workers death and accidents will be secondary to making sure their pockets are lined with cash. Apple may want to do something…..but in the end if it cost to much nothing will be done. It’s a sad state of what is important to people and what people will over look to get products they want.

    1. your last line I think implies it also falls on the buying public which is true.

      When Jobs made Macs in america and the labour cost was over $1000 more for each mac, Apple’s PC share fell to 2%.

      The same critics bashing Apple now praised PC makers outsouring to Asia for providing ‘affordable computing to Americans’.

      The public besides loading up on asian made American PCs also loaded up on Acers, Asus, Samsungs etc to the tune of 90+% market share.

      Steve Jobs even built NEXT computers in Fremont California and guess where NEXT went …

      but TODAY rivals can’t match the price on iPads…

  2. No my NYT for me and any of my contacts. NYT should be stocked next to the Tabloid (Aliens, Bigfoot, Irresponsible Celebrities, UFO’s) section. Thats exactly where NYT belongs.

  3. Oh yeah C/NET-ZDNET are on the rampage and spitting out post after post after post riding on the coattails of NYT BS article. Some are even acting as if they are the police and will keep an eye on Apple from now on. LOL Pleeeeeze!

  4. That’s why after a long life as a ‘star’ Steve Jobs learnt to avoid the press except in staged events like product launches.

    Jobs knew what people want: the press wants to sell news items and Apple bashing news sell better than ones positive on apple so it’s a no win situation for Apple .. therefore why waste his time?

    therefore apple spent very little effort communicating on the ‘iPhones missing in Channel stuffing case, the Stolen iPhone, Antennagate etc’. At the time I thought apple should have spoken up but now I realize (as Jobs probably did) the press will just twist it into a negative.

    Americans should be proud that an American company even in a recession has risen to the top of the tech world with stupendous earnings, is paying millions in taxes, providing jobs, an example of creativity to many young americans etc…. but the vast bulk of the news reports after Apple’s stella financial quarter and Cooks recent proud announcement about apple leading the way in industrial responsibility has been Apple bashing (with falsified or erroneous facts) .

    (weird that Britain knighted Jony Ive while America beats up on Apple… )

  5. Reminder: even if the U.S. goes Orwell, Apple is global, now. Apple cannot be stopped—it’s in too many places and the word is out, despite the best efforts of cultural imams to slap it down—Apple makes things that people want to own! The Chinese worship Apple. Japan is changing the rising sun on their flag to the Apple logo. German courts favor Apple. Dutch bloggers are going ape over the new retail stores. Etc.

    If U.S. cultural forces drive out the best that the U.S. has to offer, then the U.S. takes another step toward the precipice of self-absorbed, provincial, and ignoramus-driven irrelevance.

  6. Recently my pet parrot, Joboy, became lethargic, stopped talking and began losing feathers. A trip to the vet did not reveal any physical malady. I sought a second opinion. Perhaps it’s psychological I was told.
    To make a long story short, I discovered that the housekeeper temp had started using the NYT in Joboy’s cage. She’d bring her copy to work from her commute. Fortunately the housekeeper resigned to join the local OWS chapter. After a few NYT free days Joboy is back to his cheery self, although his ‘Joboy wants an iPad’ is getting tedious. I’ll probably relent, although I know I’ll have to apply the parental controls, especially the NYT.

  7. It is worthwhile repeating MDN from a previous post:

    “MacDailyNews Take: Overheard at FUD, Inc.:

    Well, boys, those were some $%&@!# earnings. WTF are we going to do now? Apple’s isn’t just taking a bigger slice, they’re taking the whole $%&@!# pie!

    There’s no new iPhone yet, so we can’t take something like attenuation and blow it all the $%&@!# out of proportion. There’s no new iPad, yet, so we can’t say that it’s so thin it cut off a little old lady’s arm in Sheboygan. We need something to give the public a least a little pause or we’re $%&@!# dead.

    Hey, what about the old “Chinese slave labor” angle? Make those $%&@!# Jobsian perfectionists look like greedy $%&@!# evil overlords. Use their money and success against them. Ooh, I like it. I really like it.

    Yeah, yeah, dummy, I know we all use the same Chinese company for assembly. And, yes, my little $%&@!#, I know they’re the best paid factory workers in China, because of Apple, no less. Don’t ever say that aloud again, you $%&@!#. Nobody cares about the facts. This is $%&@!# FUD, Inc.! All of our $%&@!# phones attenuate, too, you $%&@!# moron!

    Perception is everything. Repeat it enough times and the $%&@!# suckers of the world lap it up like candy and start repeating it like parrots.

    Quick, call up our friends at the paper!”

    SPOT ON!!

  8. The FUD machine continues to act in surreptitious ways. Glad Tim Cook stepped into the line of fire. Sickly Ironic that some of the FUD generators are the very companies manufacturing their products in China.

  9. Apple could build special factories in each country and sell Special Edition devices from those domestic factories to their citizens. These devices would naturally be more expensive. Then we can see how many people really care enough to purchase locally made devices versus the cheaper asian made products. Kind of like the RED products.

  10. “Up – with Chis Hayes” had a segment Sunday morning on this, with one of the NYT authors as a guest. I wrote this on his web site under the video of that segment:

    “Mike’s piece, the Times’ article, and your segment would have been more powerful and more to the point if you’d included facts, figures and stories about OTHER manufacturers of US electronics – as a matter of fact, electronics from around the world.

    In short, this isn’t an APPLE problem, it is an issue with labor standards in China and how does the world change that to make them better. Which would make it less of a differential between US and Chinese jobs, which would make it easier for companies to keep jobs here – or bring them back.

    China, as you noted briefly, is a Communist country, and is controlled by the Communist Party, which allows no other parties, either political or labor, to exist. If conditions there are primitive and allow for low wages, it isn’t a mistake, but a result of a synergy between their culture, its history, and the desires of that party to keep manufacturing jobs in China.

    In short, in spite of Apple’s economic power, because of the overall economic situation in China, there will be limits to what one company can do. To change the situation in China will take a concentrated effort on the part of the entire world to put pressure on that government to make fundamental, bedrock changes to how that government operates, which is at the foundation of why this is a problem in China. It won’t be easy, as several decades of world pressure on China has done very little against China’s human rights record. As you also noted, there are lots of good laws on the books in China guaranteeing all sorts of rights and such – but the culture there allows for very little subjection of the Party to the letter of the law. The law, in China, is a tool the Party uses against its enemies, and not a protection for its citizens.

    Your segment, Mike’s show, and the Times’ article failed miserably in bringing this point to the fore and even mentioning it.

    Pressure on one company will not change conditions in China, but will only bring damage and unfounded blame on that one company. I am sure that all of the other PC manufacturers (and smartphone manufacturers, too) are smiling and saying, “Thanks for all the negative publicity against our main competitor!” “

  11. While this story on Apple is not the NYTs finest hour, the NYT will admit when it is wrong and do its best to make good. Recall that the NYT scooped the WMD in Iraq story. As the shakiness of the sources was exposed, it recanted on its editorial pages. Judith Miller, who wrote some of the original pieces eventually left the Times.

    “…We have studied the allegations of official gullibility and hype. It is past time we turned the same light on ourselves…On Oct. 26 and Nov. 8, 2001, for example, Page 1 articles cited Iraqi defectors who described a secret Iraqi camp where Islamic terrorists were trained and biological weapons produced. These accounts have never been independently verified… The Times never followed up on the veracity of this source or the attempts to verify his claims.”

    I would be interested to see examples of high profile retractions by FOX or by WSJ.

  12. If the Chinese government doesn’t give a shit about its people, why should we? I mean, comon’. If these factory workers weren’t working for Foxconn, they’d be in their rural villages doing bugger all. It isn’t our job to make every country into a “little America”. It’s a matter for the Chinese to sort out, or not, as they decide.

  13. It’s unfortunate that Apple is the only company in the world that chooses to manufacture its products in China. It is even more unfortunate that Foxconn has fallen off the radar in a country that prides itself on the rights and fair labor practices for all those employed in China. How could this happen?! It’s clear that both Apple and China have dropped the ball on this outrageous incident.

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