Apple's outsourcing poses ethical problem
The new, third generation iPad. | Courtesy of Apple Inc.
The announcement of the new iPad — not iPad 3, just iPad — was bittersweet for me. I am an avid Apple user. I am typing this article on my MacBook and periodically picking up my iPhone to respond to text messages. I am one of the many who love the convenience, look and creativity of all Apple products. However, in light of recent news regarding Apple’s labor standards, I find the revealing of the “new iPad” to be bothersome.
Harsh conditions for overseas employees
The Los Angeles Times opinions staff felt the pangs of conviction when The New York Times released a series of articles exposing the harsh labor standards of Apple employees at Foxconn in Shenzhen, China where Apple products are made. The New York Times articles exposed the inhumane working conditions of the Foxconn employees, conditions that should cause us to question the morality of purchasing such a product.
According to the Los Angeles Times opinions article, many of the employees work 34-hour shifts, excessive overtime and live in crowded dorms. The article describes excerpts of the startling work environments and poses the question to readers, “Should consumers boycott Apple?”
Not long ago, Apple boasted that their products were “Made in the USA,” but like most tech companies, they have sought to manufacture their products abroad for the sake of price and productivity. However, the working conditions of their employees overseas is not what most of us can stomach.
Outsourcing will continue
When President Barack Obama joined Silicon Valley’s top luminaries for dinner in California last February, he asked Apple founder Steve Jobs what it would take for iPhones to be made at home. Jobs responded, “They are not coming back home,” according to The New York Times.
Apple’s executives have noted in The New York Times articles that it isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad, but that “the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts.”
However, how much of their flexibility and diligence is derived out of their need for survival and the lack of federal labor laws?
While this statement angers both middle-class workers and politicians in regards to job growth and the American economy, the question of morality is brought to light. Should we support a company that is taking advantage of the “cheap labor”?
Controversial social justice issue
A former Apple executive told The New York Times, “We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on … Why? Because the system works for us.”
This has been and continues to be a hotly contested issue. While many companies can be put on blast for doing the same thing, the fact is that Apple is one of the most well-known and influential companies on the planet. If they set the standard for working conditions, imagine the impact they could have on other companies.
This is a social justice issue. If the jobs are to stay abroad and never return home due to the effective labor, perhaps Apple should treat them accordingly. These Chinese workers do deserve to have a right to work and provide for their families, but they also deserve to be treated as humans. The fact that labor is cheaper abroad does not mean they should be treated as disposable objects and their humanity forsaken.
Making an ethical choice
Since corporate America has decided that profit and efficiency trumps decency, the question is posed to us consumers: At what cost are we willing to get the next best thing?
“By some estimates, each iPhone includes $190 in hardware costs, $10 in Chinese labor,” said Scott Tong in the Business section of the American Public Media Marketplace in late January. If these are correct estimates, perhaps Apple should have just said pointedly that abiding by federal regulations would slow down their productivity and increase costs.
I wrestle with this issue because I, like thousands of others, love Apple products. However, I value human life more. I believe we have a moral responsibility as consumers, and with our tech-savvy culture, bringing about awareness would not be a difficult first step.