Since the report in the New York Times once again exposing the abhorrent working conditions along Apple’s supply line and the subsequent public outcry led by ethics watchdog group SumOfUs, Apple has put the spin doctors to work, hiring the self-professed “Fair Labor Association,” (FLA, more on them later) to audit its factories and giving major American media outlets a supervised tour of Foxconn.
While certainly evidence that Apple is worried about the PR disaster looming over its head, the company’s response, it seems to me, is nothing but the same sort of disingenuous early stage damage control we see all the time, designed to feign caring and change without addressing the extant systemic issues. It’s the kind of hollow platitudes that we, the general public, fall for all the time (particularly with a new iPad scheduled for release this week)…but not this time.
Despite the fact that Apple is running the corporate spin doctor playbook from A to Z, the fact is that even bothering with such platitudes is evidence that to some extent Apple is listening, its just doesn’t want to keep listening or actually spend any real money on solving the problem, so its up to us to keep them accountable.
Shortly after the NY Times exposé again shed light on the atrocious working conditions in the Foxconn factories along Apple’s supply line, the latter quickly transitioned into damage control mode, hiring what they claimed was an independent ethical auditing firm, the FLA.
While certainly a non-profit ethical watchdog, the firm itself is hardly independent, claiming Apple as one of its primary corporate sponsors. In fact, FLA CEO Auret van Heerden has come under considerable criticism for praising the labour conditions at Foxconn, comments he made shortly after Apple became a paying corporate member of the FLA.
The first move Foxconn made in the wake of the revival of the working conditions crisis was to hire PR firm Burston-Marsteller to spin the situation into something better, a firm infamously known for its lobbying for Big Tobacco and assisting corporations in the rebranding process following the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, the Tylenol poisonings, and the massive Bhopal chemical spill, to name but a few.
Responding to PR advice, Foxconn immediately offered workers a pay raise (the same response it had in the wake of the rash of suicides last year), although what Foxconn failed to mention is that they concomitantly raised the cost of living at the Foxconn compound to recoup their losses.
But the truth is that it’s doubtful Foxconn can truly pay its employees any more than it is, simply because Apple refuses to pay fairly for the products it receives. Consider this, Apple pays approximately $10 to Foxconn for each iPad produced ($8 for an iPhone) and sells that iPad (at its online store) for at least $519 dollars, a monumental profit. While treating employees humanely might mean some added cost for the end consumer, it doesn’t have to. In fact, many predict that demanding for humane working conditions wouldn’t have any appreciable effect on the cost, but would simply delay the devices by a month or two (a small price to pay it seems).
In the end, with a market capitalization higher than the GDP of most countries in the world, if there was a company that had the power, influence, and resources to effect a global systemic change regarding working conditions it would be Apple. All they have to do is act, and all we have to do is tell them to.