I’m a big admirer of Apple products and of the late Steve Jobs. So when I got an email a few days ago from an organization called “Sum Of Us” (www.sumofus.org) alleging that the company mistreats Chinese workers, I was shocked. The email states: “Today Apple unveils the new iPad. If it is like Apple’s past products, it will be a sleek, gorgeous gadget, hand-assembled by underpaid workers forced to put in illegal and dangerous amounts of overtime.”
What is going on? According to a New York Times article from 2011, workers assembling iPhones and iPads often “labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocate and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious—sometimes deadly—safety problems.
“Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records…more troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for worker’s health.”
But Apple is not the only electronics company, the article says, that’s doing business within a troubling supply system. “Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba, and others.”
If true, is this ok? Most definitely not! Worse, this is the very first I’ve heard of it. I am reminded of the woman who called the BBB a few years ago to complain about a coffeemaker she’d purchased at Walmart. It had some kind of defect where, instead of the coffee going into the pot, it went all over her brand-new countertop and stained it permanently. I’ll never forget the indignation in her voice when she berated Walmart for outsourcing to China. “Shame on you,” she said righteously. And I thought, where is the “Shame on me, for buying this product?”
Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company in 2011 by saying “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain,” according to the International Business Times. “Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us.” Cook says that every year Apple inspects more factories, “raising the bar for our partners and going deeper into the supply chain. We know of no-one in our industry doing as much as we are, in as many places…”
And Apple now has a website where you can go to check on their suppliers—it’s at apple.com/supplierresponsibility.
In a sad statement, maybe even a pathetic one, the New York Times article stated baldly that what is morally repugnant in one country is standard business practice in another. This goes against every ember of the fire I have in my belly for the BBB. Better business practices don’t hurt people. They don’t hurt the environment. (Personally, I don’t care if they cost more. Cheap can be the devil’s bargain.)
So next time I go to buy a product, I’m doing more than the usual amount of research first. Is this a company I’d be comfortable announcing to the world that I buy from? Can I put it on your Facebook page with pride? If the entire industry isn’t up to standard, then what pressure can I bring to bear on them?
As Edward Everett Hale so famously said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”