If you like electronic gadgets, it's hard not to be enticed by the offerings of Apple Incorporated. Since the 1980s, Apple has produced some of the most innovative, user friendly and transformative products on the market. They have often pushed the design envelope and as a consequence, have given consumer electronics an ever-evolving aesthetic.
If you like electronic gadgets, it’s hard not to be enticed by the offerings of Apple Incorporated. Since the 1980s, Apple has produced some of the most innovative, user friendly and transformative products on the market. They have often pushed the design envelope and as a consequence, have given consumer electronics an ever-evolving aesthetic.
Apple as a corporate enterprise is a notoriously complicated entity. Driven from the start by the charismatic, yet elusive Steve Jobs, the company is at once secretive and approachable. When one thinks of poor corporate citizens, Apple would scarcely be the first company that comes to mind. Perhaps it’s their early history of anti-Orwellian commercials, entreating customers to “think different.” Maybe it’s the now-distilled gray Apple logo, once a rainbow of hippy-happy colors. Whatever the shtick used to lure creative types in to the cult of mac, it seems to have worked very well. If nothing else, the ubiquity of the iPhone and iPad give testament to the manufacturer’s creep into iconic status.
It would be easy enough to delight in Apple products with a blithe assurance that such pleasant, useful items were made by contented elves in a faraway workshop, perhaps just south of the North Pole. It would also require a few primroses along our path.
Writing for the New York Times, Charles Duhigg and David Barboza just published an expansive analysis of Apple’s suppliers. The majority of companies in Apple’s supply chain are decidedly south of Santa’s workshop, unless St. Nick has likewise farmed out to Asia.
As Duhigg and Barboza report, Chinese workers toil in an environment most Americans would consider inhumane if not openly criminal. “Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms… 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, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.”
Of course, Apple is hardly alone. “Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others,” the report states.
One need not read of many Chinese factory explosions, gas leaks, collapses and their kin to feel less enthusiastic about the world’s best platform for playing Angry Birds. Paging through the Times article an unpleasant reckoning starts to manifest: What if only a tenth of this were true? It would still tax the conscience.
Moreover, the story is hardly new. Since the dawn of industry we’ve struggled with the tension between efficiency and human dignity. In the end, a flat panel television that costs $400 instead of $40,000 always seems to win. Cheap invariably trumps because we have become quite adept at pretending the bad thing didn’t happen that enabled our luxury and avarice. Chances are, everyone of us is guilty. To paraphrase the apostle, “all have sinned and come short.”
Grumblers will question why the Chinese workers don’t just rise up. In that particular case, a homogeneous society with a deep cultural mandate for submersion of the individual isn’t the world’s most fertile ground for fomenting that kind of revolution.
As Upton Sinclair aptly states, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Of course Sinclair had industry’s number. A couple of lines from the Jungle and it becomes clear, “All day long this man would toil thus, his whole being centered upon the purpose of making twenty-three instead of twenty-two and a half cents an hour; and then his product would be reckoned up by the census taker, and jubilant captains of industry would boast of it in their banquet halls, telling how our workers are nearly twice as efficient as those of any other country.”
Yes, what price greatness hath wrought. Maybe we should “think different.”
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Matthew Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice, is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany. He may be contacted via email@example.com