Apples To Apples

Do we care about labor conditions in other countries?

Last week Apple announced the Fair Labor Association would be inspecting Foxconn and other factories that manufacture Apple products. Preliminary reports are coming out that Foxconn has “tons of issues“, details of which should be coming out on FLA’s website in March. Foxconn has made an effort to raise salaries, which does seem to be a step in the right direction, but there are still many issues to be addressed.

But, whether or not the FLA is effective in its audit (which sometimes is in doubt), and whether or not workers salaries increase, are we going to change our behavior if conditions do not get better?

Jordan Terry of Forbes thinks we won’t. In a blog post from yesterday “So What If Apple Has A Chinese Labor Problem?“, Terry conducts a detailed financial analysis on the impact to Apple’s sales and share price of the Foxconn issue, and potential solutions to it.

I’d like to address two assertions Terry makes in this article:

1) There’s a “cognitive dissonance” in protestors who are at the same time carrying Apple products.

2) Our country has enough issues to deal with to worry about labor practices overseas.

Let’s address the cognitive dissonance first. Terry is right that sub-optimal working conditions in China are nothing new, and it hasn’t seemed to bother us before. As previously stated here, I think we all had an idea of what conditions were like, but convinced ourselves that they were only a little worse. But now that we know, should we continue to use technology or change our buying and using behavior?

It’s tough in this world to be completely pure. I like the romantic idea of a grassroots movement traveling via only world of mouth to convince people to stop buying Apple or any other electronics until practices change. But that would deprive this movement of the effective social tools of this decade, social media and twitter, and even things like this blog. Like it or not, we live in a technological world, and at least for the things we already own, there isn’t a lot we can do about it so we might as well use it.

It’s that future device that makes all the difference. Terry makes the assertion that it would be difficult for Apple people to be caught dead with a non-Apple product. Whether or not this is true, it’s missing the point. All electronics are bad apples in this fight. Foxconn supplies all of them, and it is not the only company with sub-par labor conditions. The question is are we willing to not buy any new electronics until something changes? That’s a tough sell, and leads us to the next issue Terry raises.

Should we solve our own problems first before worrying about those in other countries? I think morally we know the answer to this question. American businesses, justified by capitalism or not, are responsible for their actions in hiring Foxconn to do the work. It might be (and is) a perfectly sound business decision, but it compromises other values in the process. It doesn’t matter that we’ve got a lot of other things on our mind right now, it’s our responsibility. It may be difficult to enforce labor laws in other countries, but just because it is difficult doesn’t make it worth doing.

How do we get people to care? By educating ourselves, by raising awareness, and asking questions of the companies that make our favorite gadget, and perhaps being willing to sacrifice our next new toy. I respond by writing stories, maybe you do art, or writing your own article, or telling a couple of your friends. Whatever you do, do something.

You can share your thoughts and responses on our CFML page or on the Facebook group, or right here!

Note: It can be difficult to find news stories once something has passed out of the news cycle. A good newsletter for tech news is http://www.circuitnet.com/ where I found most of the stories for today’s post.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Apples To Apples

  1. This is a very difficult question. Once you realize that the things you buy have real ethical implications, what do you do?

    The problem is that there isn’t just one product you can boycott that will make everything better. Almost everything you purchase has some sort of ethical ramification. To take it even further: almost every trivial-seeming decision you make (or don’t make) has far-reaching implications.

    You can drive yourself crazy trying to fix it all. But you can’t do nothing, either. So what do you do?

    I think the best answer is to pick at least one thing and try to do it better. For you, it’s electronics and working conditions. For me, it’s meat and factory farming. It’s good to do at least something.

    But no matter what you do, it’s never enough. And that’s a hard pill to swallow.

    • I think you’re right about picking at least one thing and trying to do it better, so much the better if it’s one that speaks to your personally. I work in the computer industry, have built my career on computers and technology. The devices I use every day were constructed under harsh conditions and so it matters to me that those conditions get better. The important thing is not to tune out problems just because there are so many of them. Technology allows us to escape into a fantasy world whether it is television, computer games, or even just the internet, and let us ignore the things we do not want to hear. We are not be able to solve all the world’s problems as individuals, but we can make small pieces of the world better, and we can get people to think. That’s one of the reasons I write.

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