When Child Labor Isn’t Child Labor, and ‘Underage Labor’ is Just Something You Say.

What motivates an activist to exaggerate and even lie about the conditions in which Chinese laborers live and work? Like many, I first pondered this question after hearing Mike Daisey’s infamous This American Life episode. And, like many, I never thought that others would dare follow in his dishonest footsteps.

Then I came across China Labor Watch (or CLW) a New York-based labor right organization that’s been conducting investigations into the manufacturing practices of consumer products manufacturers who operate in China (Apple and Samsung are its favorite targets). Last October I wrote a lengthy piece investigating how CLW sourced one of its investigations into Apple, and found the organization’s methods seriously lacking.

I then mostly forgot about the organization until earlier this week, and its most recent report on an Apple supplier. Among the many allegations are that Apple suppliers use what it characterizes as “underage labor.” As I outline in a short piece for Bloomberg View, this is not only misleading it’s factually inaccurate.

Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped countless news organizations (from the Washington Post to Computerworld) from repeating China Labor Watch’s claims without questioning their veracity. Yet as I argue at Bloomberg, the organization’s methods don’t deserve this privilege.


While I’m at it – also at Bloomberg, I have an essay discussing how Detroit’s bankruptcy is faring in China’s public opinion hothouse. The answers may not be what you expect.


And finally, as mentioned last week – starting on Tuesday I’m going post a daily picture of what recycling really looks like, from around the world, in the run-up to the November 12th release of my first book, Junkyard Planet (pre-order links are in the sidebar to your right!). These posts should be somewhat similar to a series of blogs I did when guest-blogging for James Fallows a couple of years ago (links to the complete series, here; an individual example, here).

More next week!