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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. “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!” “

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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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