When I published a post concerning Apple’s manufacturing practices called Westerners Without Borders way back in 2012 (Jamison 2012) I would have been horrified to learn that Apple would be garnering negative press in 2015 for doing nothing to change the miserable lives of their exhausted Chinese contract workers (BBC News 2014).
Our (I say our because I own an iPad, unfortunately) insatiable and irrational appetite for Apple products is one of the main contributors to the problem. Yes, cheap labour from unethical Asian manufacturing companies in countries such as such as China, Taiwan, and Bangladesh is being used by most major technology companies, such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, and Asus (Perlow 2012), but it seems to be the frequent large-scale product releases and the built-in obsolescence particularly evident in Apple’s products that have created worsening labour practices.
Apple create the hype and demand via advertising and yearly product releases, and Apple customers feed off this hype and generate the demand that forces companies like Foxconn and Pegatron to push their workers to the brink of exhaustion to meet unachievable deadlines. The Apple customer knowingly buys an iPhone even though they almost definitely know of Apple’s failure to properly commit to ethical labour practices due to multiple exposées published since the original Foxconn scandal. It is possible that they know that they probably couldn’t access new Apple products so readily if Chinese workers were happy, as suggested by ZDNet writer Jason Perlow (2012). Maybe they don’t know that their discarded iPhone 4s, 3s, 2s, and 1s aren’t being recycled properly by recycling services, and are instead ending up in burning, toxic heaps as poor workers try to break down imported bundles of dead technology, sent to Ghana by countries who tell the world that they are ethical and morally correct (Vitola 2011).
It is also possible that we don’t want the world to be as just and equal as we say we do. In a recent TED Talk, behavioural economist Dan Ariely talks about a study he conducted which focuses on the general public’s current and ideal perceptions of equality (2015). Not one of the respondents in his survey said that they wanted a totally equal society; there would always be a ‘poor’ group who had very little wealth and would be exploited for the benefit of the wealthier parts of this society. This says a lot about the society in which we currently live; it is possible that Apple, and Apple customers, want workers to be exploited and driven to the ground so that they can get their shiny iPhones whenever they decide they need a fresh piece of tech. If the situation is conveniently far enough away from them geographically and mentally to avoid being confronted, then they are not emotionally obliged to consistently care about how their Apple-thing was made. Out of sight, out of mind.
Ariely, D. 2015, ‘How equal do we want the world to be? You’d be surprised’, TED Talk, accessed 20/04/15, http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_how_equal_do_we_want_the_world_to_be_you_d_be_surprised#t-298778
BBC News 2014, ‘Apple ‘deeply offended’ by BBC investigation’, BBC News Technology, 19 December, accessed 20/04/15, http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30548468
Jamison G. 2012, ‘Westerners Without Borders’, accessed 20/04/15, http://gemmcraft.com/2012/03/23/westerners-without-borders/
Perlow, J. 2012, ‘Happy Chinese workers spell the end of affordable tech’, ZDNet, February 2, accessed 23/04/15, http://www.zdnet.com/article/happy-chinese-workers-spell-the-end-of-affordable-tech/
Vitola, G. 2011, ‘E-Waste Hell’, SBS, accessed 22/04/15, http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/story/e-waste-hell