Americans today tend to believe that Apple as a corporation is infallible. We associate the technologies that Apple has created with religion –embodying a cult following. Apple enthusiasts describe the way its products feel, look, and make you feel. In this way, Apple is able to create something more than just technology. Apple products inspire a new way of life. How else can you explain the extreme popularity of the iPhone, iMac, and iPad? Steve Jobs and Apple were able to design products that consumers dreamt of while ignoring the results of market research. In doing so, it’s not surprising that Apple cut corners and incorporated unethical business practices. As Mike Daisey prefaced his story, it’s easy to let innovation, design, and elegance clout the consumer’s vision of Apple. There’s another side to the story and that’s Fox Conn. Daisey was able to experience first hand the poor treatment of Chinese workers in plants that directly supplied Apple and various other electronic companies.
Before listening to Daisey’s story my initial impression of Fox Conn was of naivety. I knew what Fox Conn was and had various foggy memories of news stories that surfaced regarding the poor working conditions of its employees. I went in with a mindset that conditions in outsourced factories are grim but play a key role in providing economic activity to the area and are successful in providing “livable” conditions to their workers. However, after listening to Daisey’s story, I’m disturbed by the extremity of poor working conditions. Daisey mentions the construction of nets to prevent suicides, cafeterias that serve 10,000 and sit 4,000 people, and sleeping conditions that better resemble coffins than beds. In addition to material and mental components of the working conditions at Fox Conn he also depicts images of serious physical damage to the bodies of workers. The poisonous screen cleaners bothered me in addition to the tremendous wear and tear on workers’ joints. Everything that Mike Daisey described appeared to be lack luster attempts by the corporate office to reduce costs and improve efficiency. The question is where to draw the line?
Given the history of Apple’s success it’s not surprising to me that they have a few skeletons in their closet. Throughout Apple’s life they faced constant pressure to improve production efficiencies at reduced costs. In the period of explosive iPhone and iPad sales it was a business necessity for Apple to provide sufficient supply of its products to curb demand. If I had to guess, the working conditions at Fox Conn were arguably better in the earlier stages of its life and as demand and pressures to reduce costs increased, the working conditions suffered. Apple is also notorious for consistently beating its earnings reports. It would not surprise me if special treatment was given to Fox Conn (or other suppliers) to decrease costs in order to satisfy market pressures. Lastly, I find it ironic that Apple depicts itself as the savior from a dystopian 1984 society when in reality; Apple is the direct cause of a similar culture in its factories abroad. I believe that we (corporations, consumers, and members of society) have an obligation to treat workers the way we believe we should be treated. Workers deserve basic labor protections even when the jobs are being outsourced.