Less than a week after a poignant NY Times exposé lambasted Apple for its substandard moderation and oversight of ongoing labour and worker safety issues in its Chinese supplied facilities– in which an unnamed Apple executive proclaimed that, “Right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China”–one group is calling out for an “ethical” iPhone, one made under fair labour practices.
Ethical watchdog group SumOfUs posted an online petition late last week, demanding that Apple resolve the inhumane working conditions and practices overseas and challenging the tech giant to create the “first ethical iPhone.”
In a recently leaked internal email, Apple CEO Tim Cook took issue with the reports that Apple was turning a blind eye to the veritable human tragedy being played out along the company’s supply chain, stating that “any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us.” As the petition states, if Cook is indeed as offended as he claims to be, the time is now to do something about it.
Apple has a long and somewhat controversial history with ethical issues, with the late Steve Jobs often pushing his whitewashed moral agenda on the tech consumer public in a strong-armed take-it-or-leave-it fashion. There was the longstanding debate over users ability to access and view adult material on their Apple devices, the recent controversy over homophobic mobile applications, and an apparent “glitch” in the company’s Siri voice assistant that prevented it from directing users to abortion clinics.
In most cases Apple took the route it considered to be the least controversial, hoping to avoid any sort of unified public outcry that might actually rouse the tech consuming public from its Apple-crazed hypnosis.
While it remains to be seen what Apple will do in response to this current situation, the difference here is that the working conditions of workers along Apple’s supply line is a matter of money, considerable money I would wager, and Apple has never been known to cough up one red cent if it can help it.
That said, SumOfUs is confident that such an overhaul to its supply line is realistic, as all Apple has to do is demand improvements from its supplies and they’ll be implemented. In fact, SumOfUs executive director Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman has taken things one step further, challenging Apple CEO Tim Cook to stand by his words and prove whether he really is as offended by these allegations as he says he is.
Instead of blaming the media for covering this story, Stinebrickner-Kauffman argues, Cook needs to recognize that this is the supply chain he setup as the company’s former COO and “he needs to start taking responsibility, not blaming the messenger.”
The real question, though, is whether the general public actually wants an “ethical” iPhone, as while that weighty prefix may deliver improved working conditions for Chinese factory workers it’ll likely bring increased costs to the consumer here in North America as well. While I’m sure people signing the petition are willing to pay more for their gadgets, the lamentable fact is that there’s a long consumer history of money savings trumping ethical concerns and I fear it will do so once again here.