Rotten Apple: Getting to the Core of Apple’s Chinese Ethical Violations
Abuses at Apple’s plants in Shenzhen, China earned CEO Tim Cook and his company several front-page headlines in recent weeks. When reports surfaced around terrible working conditions, including long hours, underage workers and tragic suicides, Apple launched “one of the most public factory audits in manufacturing history,” according to Cook. Remember the Nike scandals in the late 1990’s?
A rare public relations problem for the computer giant, this story seems to repeat itself with corporate giants like Wal-Mart, Gap and GE. However, both public outcry and pressure for more transparency have forced big companies to assume more responsibility in recent years for environmental and social injustices throughout their supply chains. And Apple is doing just that.
Knowing that the world has high expectations of Apple, the company is determined to address recent concerns by sending in the Fair Labor Association, an independent watchdog group that works to improve conditions for workers. Even though Apple was the first electronics company to join the FLA, The New York Times was quick to blame Apple, citing several former executives as credible sources. Yet let’s be objective: Apple’s “China problem” and Foxconn’s labor practice problem has many, many sides of the story to uncover.
Foxconn, a multinational electronics manufacturing company, is the largest exporter in Greater China and the largest private-sector employer in China.
From a bottom-line perspective, it makes sense for Apple to outsource its manufacturing to a country where labor is cheap and, dare I say, Chinese workers are disinclined to organize for higher wages and better treatment, less they be reprimanded and lose jobs for their dissent. Besides, some could also argue they have better conditions in Shenzhen than they do back home in their villages and that if they demanded Western wages there would be no point to having factories there in the first place. Sad, but corporately, true. From an ethical perspective, this doesn’t make any of Apple or Foxconn’s actions reasonable or acceptable, for the impact of this situation far outweighs their monthly audit updates posted to the website. As an end result, we can measure training and hours, but don’t know anything about the quality of life for the workers.Finally, from an American consumer’s perspective, what are you inclined to do? Will you forgo buying an iPhone because of the way the people who assembled it were treated? Do you demand higher wages for the workers if it means the price of that iPhone increases $100 on your end? On the other hand, will you stop drinking coffee because Latin American farm workers have a rough life? And should you make your own clothes since sweatshops are so prevalent?
Delve a little deeper into every public relations problem a company has ever had and you’ll find that things are not always as simple as they seem.