The day after Apple posted massive profits in its latest fiscal report, the working conditions along the Cupertino technology giant’s supply lines, particularly those found in the Foxconn factories littered across China, have once again come under scrutiny in a NY Times exposé; not because something new has happened, but because nothing old has changed.
Amidst Apple’s record breaking iPhone sales, the continued growth of the dominance of its iPad, and the resurgence of its Mac computer brand, the company has been plagued by ongoing concerns about inhumane working conditions along its supply line, including workers enduring exorbitantly long hours and an unsafe work environment, conditions that if questioned by the employees themselves have led to threats and even physical punishment. Further, several have been killed and dozens injured in factory explosions this last year, saying nothing about the rash of well-publicized suicides the year before.
So who’s to blame for this ongoing crisis? While there are several prime candidates the truth of the matter is that we, the Apple crazed consumer, are largely at fault, as one anonymous Apple executive explains, “Right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”
The previous quote comes at the end of a particularly succinct explanation of this entire situation: “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, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards. And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China,” the unidentified Apple executive told the Times.
Perhaps read that quote one more time and this time remember that the two things we’re talking about here are human beings in China and that slightly more affordable gadget in your hand. The fact is the atrocious working conditions at Foxconn factories, which manufacture an estimated 40 percent of the world’s technological gadgets for companies like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Sony (in case you thought I was just picking on Apple), don’t change because of us, because of our insatiable appetite for the latest, greatest, and not to mention most affordable technology.
Just imagine how the general Apple crazed public would feel if the company suddenly announced that it had altered its metronome-like release schedule and would now only be releasing a new phone or tablet every second or third year. Further, the new devices would cost about 25 to 30 percent more than they used to. The reasons behind the hypothetical switch in the company’s modus operandiwould of course be that it had demanded changes in the working conditions of its suppliers or perhaps that it had moved its supply chain to North America, but I doubt the general public would aceept the explanation and Apple would have a veritable mutiny on its hands.
I’m not sure if I can explain it, but Apple devices are like a drug that we simply can’t kick. Our desire, hell our need for such devices is what drives these labour atrocities overseas and despite the fact that Apple has revised its Supplier Code of Conduct the company itself has found that far less than half of its supplies abide by the rules (PDF), yet nothing is said, nothing is done, and nothing is changed because once again, “customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”