The Dark Side of Apple

by Jeremy Hodge on January 30, 2012

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about Apple and how it’s products are manufactured. There was a This American Life episode in which storyteller Mike Daisey went to China to talk with factory workers who work on products such as the iPhone, and also the New York Times investigative reporting series on Apple’s manufacturing practices and suppliers. All of these pieces show a darker side of Apple, one in which the people who actually assemble it’s products  are overworked, underpaid and sometimes even put in harms way. However, this isn’t new news, there have been reports since 2010 about the conditions at Foxconn and even when Steve Jobs was alive there were stories about a string of suicides at those plants. So you would think that there would have been some sort of consumer backlash against Apple, right? Well, not really.

With the advent of social media, consumers have been able to challenge and triumph over large corporations on a variety of fronts. Organic and local food has become more and more prevalent in grocery stores across the country and fast food companies have been challenged to offer healthier choices. Car companies are producing more environmentally friendly vehicles and many different types of businesses are “going green”. Even financial institutions have buckled to their customer’s demands. When Bank of America announced that they were going to charge a $5 monthly fee on checking accounts a petition was started on speaking out against the fees. After 300,000 signatures, a lot of chatter on Facebook and Twitter, and quite a bit of media coverage, Bank of America decided to drop the fees. So how come Apple has avoided this kind of consumer pressure and backlash?

The only time Apple really feels the heat is when its products don’t work. There was definitely more buzz about antennagate in the main stream media than about the Foxconn suicides in 2010. Apple seems to have this  strange immunity from certain criticisms that other companies face. They produce gadgets and tools which we find beautiful and essential, devices that help us create, consume and change the world. Yet we’re so jaded by the allure of what’s on the surface, that we don’t dig a little deeper to find out where it comes from. We’ve become so conscious about what’s in our food and the impact of our actions on the environment, yet we aren’t aware about what’s behind the technology that we use on a daily basis.

Apple isn’t the only offender, a lot of other companies including Motorola, HP, Microsoft and others, outsource their manufacturing to Foxconn. In fact just recently, there was a group of Foxconn employees working on the Xbox who threatened to commit suicide over a dispute about transfering jobs. I don’t believe Apple or these other companies are evil, yet they get so big and motivated by profit, that when they start to build their company through spreadsheets rather than the values they were founded on, they can lose sight. I doubt a young Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would ever have wanted their products being made by exploited labor.

While Apple has documented some of the issues at Foxconn in their supplier reports, they need to take real action and make their suppliers become the gold standard in safety and workers rights. If they do, the rest of the industry will follow suit. We as consumers also have to change our behaviors if we want Apple to change. At Macworld last week, many attendees shrugged off the reports about Apple and Foxconn with “that’s just how it is in China,” “other companies do the same thing” and “no one wants to pay more for an expensive product.” If people are going to be this lazy and apathetic about how their devices are produced than we have only ourselves to blame.  We need to be consistent in pushing Apple and other tech companies to improve conditions for the people manufacturing their products, and not forget about the cause when we see the new iPad.

Want to nudge Apple? Sign this petition on (hey it worked on Bank of America!)

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