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Foxconn won't sue over fabricated radio brickbats

'Our corporate image has been totally ruined,' but that's okay

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The Chinese contract manufacturer vilified in the now-discredited public radio broadcast assailing its working conditions may be licking its wounds, but it won't seek redress in court.

"Our corporate image has been totally ruined," Foxconn spokesman Simon Hsing told Reuters. "The point is whatever media that cited the program should not have reported it without confirming [with us]."

Despite that ruined reputation and lack of fact-checking, Hsing said, "We have no plans to take legal action." Not to be too cynical – or too realistic – but the decision to forgo legal action may well have been motivated by Foxconn's desire to avoid scrutiny of the conditions to which it subjects its workers.

The program to which Hsing refers, "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," an except from Mike Daisey's one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," was broadcast in January on the popular US public radio show "This American Life".

Subsequent research by China-based American Public Media correspondent Rob Schmitz revealed that Daisey had fabricated significant parts of what he reported to have been his actual experiences when speaking with Foxconn employees. As a result, "This American Life" retracted the story last Friday,.

The irony in this entire imbroglio, of course, is that conditions at Foxconn and other Chinese manufacuring plants are, indeed, grim. The company – a contract manufacturer for Amazon, Apple, Dell, HP, Microsoft, and others, reportedly – has been repeatedly upbraided for its dismal working conditions.

The focus on American companies' use of Chinese factories to assemble their gadget goodies – a spotlight that has to this point been aimed almost exclusively at Apple – has caused Foxconn and others to react, in part, by raising wages in its digital sweatshops.

That's all well and good, of course, for the Chinese men and women who have migrated from the countryside by the millions to work in that country's swiftly expanding industrial centers – if they can keep their jobs, that is. It seems that the ever-pesky law of unintended consequences has struck again: some major contract manufacturers are now exploring moving out of China, with the Phillipines being one beneficiary of that exodus.

While Foxconn's image may have been "totally ruined", there are plenty of other firms ready to take any contracts that foreign companies might withdraw from that Taiwan-based mega-manufacturer's parent company, Hon Hai Precision Industry. And those companies will both provide needed employment to the impoverished and likely subject them to dismal working conditions.

The rapid industrialization of Asia and its benefits to and exploitation of its citizens is a complex matter, one not easily summed up in fabicated theater pieces or resolved through feel-good petition drives.

But at least we, lounging in our comfy salons, won't have to endure the sordid spectacle of Foxconn dragging "This American Life" into court. Thank heaven for small favors. ®

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