Quite a bit in the press recently about Apple and it’s lack of concern about how its products are made. I think this provides a really fascinating moment in time for consumers to decide what they value.
Many Apple products are made in China. There’s this chilling article in the New York Times that basically says that Apple are aware of and don’t care about the frankly horrendous conditions that workers making iphones and ipads have to put up with. Part of this is due to the success of the products that mean that they are forced to make them faster than is safe. So, for example, those cleaning iphone screens should use alcohol. But, alcohol takes time to evaporate. So as the article says:
“Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis. Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.”
As well as this there are suicides, explosions due to aluminium dust that have killed workers as well as the 6 day a week, 12 hour days. Basically, Apple supports 21st Century Work Houses.
As one former Apple executive puts it: “Most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”
So, what does all of this mean? To me, what’s interesting is what will consumers do?
At what point, if at all, will consumers make a value judgement? When will they, if at all, decide that the way the iphone 5 or ipad 3 is made runs against their sense of equality and justice? Or is the fate and treatment of Chinese factory workers less important than their desire for the kit?
In a way and if you wanted to get all patriotic about it, the Declaration of Independence states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
So, this is approaching Apple from one ‘negative’ angle.
What makes Apple even more interesting is fact that Apple products are made to be replaced on a short cycle. From a sustainability point of view, it would be easy to argue that no other single company is more responsible for contributing to both our never-ending desire for more stuff that we arguably don’t need (we didn’t need a tablet before, but now we do), but also the desire to replace the perfectly workable stuff with new, flashier stuff. E.g. iphone, iphone 3, iphone 3s, iphone 4, iphone 4s were all introduced in just over 4 years (2007-2011).
Given the amount of rare metals and resources that go into making Apple products, again, at what point, if at all, will consumers decide that the environment is more important than their desire to have the newest, latest kit, some of which they didn’t need before?
Is it possible to join these two points together?
If the mounting evidence of Apple’s business practices aren’t enough to get those people to stop buying Apple, the question becomes ‘How bad would Apple’s behaviour have to be in order to get them to stop buying Apple?’