It’s no secret that Apple is one of the most coveted brand names in the world. Their products are instantly recognizable and they transcend every day consumer electronics genre to create objects of artistic beauty and innovative spirit. Apple, already a giant among personal electronics makers, is still growing at blurring speed, raking in massive profits – this last quarter the company made more than $13 Billion in sales profit alone, one of the largest profit margins is corporate history. This is great news for everyone – stock holders see their value increase greatly and the company gets to build a massive cash hoard which can be used to buy emerging and exciting technologies and further fuel innovation. Best of all, consumers get even more inspiring and beautiful products at cheaper price.
And that last bit is where there is a slight annoyance. Actually its more of a moral obligation that if ignored amounts gross ignorance to every bit of ethical responsibility that is expected from a company as evidently esteemed as Apple. Many of us who follow Apple and tech industry closely have known for a while that all this cool and crafty devices are built on the backbones of minimum income workers toiling away in a factory at Shenzhen or Chengdu or some other distant impoverished village. But in recent times numerous reports have surfaced that, in some detail, paint a vile picture depicting an environment that is harsh and outright exploitative. The New York Times published an article today detailing how poor ventilation at a Foxconn factory caused an explosion due to excessive aluminum dust which killed two people and injured dozens. The same article also reports how the workers endure excruciatingly long working hours, inadequate health services and poor living conditions. Recently Public Radio’s This American Life focused an entire show on the experiences of a self-identified Apple fan boy’s visit to Foxconn and his meeting with the workers and labor rights activists in Shenzhen. These articles and stories succeed in detailing the abuse and mistreatment that the workers experience to produce our coveted iWhatevers.
To be fair, many tech companies including Dell, HP, Motorola and Sony also engage in similar practices. Given the frantic pace at which these companies desire to produce, manufacture and sell their products the last thing that’s on their minds is worker’s welfare. But this is especially painful for Apple enthusiasts since we regard Apple at a much higher stature. Although Apple has taken a number of steps like yearly auditing and monitoring of working conditions, there is much to be improved. Surely the company that pays so much attention to detail for its products should also focus on the people who make those products. With their hands and bodies, battered and weak, these workers are pretty much subsidizing our seemingly insatiable craving for the latest and greatest and Apple has to make sure that the iPods and iPhones don’t become the vehicles of social abuse and violence like African conflict diamonds.
A current Apple executive said in one of the articles –
“You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper..”
“And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”
That is troubling and unnerving to say the least. I think I would be OK with paying a bit more so that workers can get a fair deal. Hopefully, we will see some real action from Apple.
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