My iPhone Asks

I Want Apple To Be A Good Company So I Can Keep Upgrading My iPhone

On May 20th, there was an explosion in the Foxconn Chengdu plant in China. It’s one of two factories that produces iPads. 3 people were killed and 15 injured. The explosion was caused by combustible dust in an air duct of the polishing workshop according city officials in Chengdu. (Source: New York Times)

Apple’s statement:

“We are deeply saddened by the tragedy at Foxconn’s plant in Chengdu, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We are working closely with Foxconn to understand what caused this terrible event.” (Source: All Things D)

Foxconn’s statement:

We can confirm that at approximately 7 pm on May 20, there was an explosion at our Chengdu campus. At this point, we can also confirm that there were two fatalities with injuries to 16 other employees. We are working with medical officials to provide treatment to the injured employees and we are working with government and law enforcement officials to contact the families of all employees affected by this tragedy.
The situation has been brought under control by the fire department and the cause of this explosion is being investigated by local police officials. Foxconn is cooperating fully with that investigation. Production has been suspended at the site of the explosion until the completion of the investigation. The safety of our employees is our highest priority and we will do whatever is required to determine and address the cause of this tragic accident. (Source: All Things D)

But, really?  I want to ignore the story.

Because I love my MacBook and iPhone. And I have visions of iPads dancing in my head.

I would like to say: I’m merely assuming that something I love so much and is cool and hip must be made by a company who cares. A company who wouldn’t abuse their workers.

But in reality, this isn’t the first mentions of problems with Apple-Foxconn factories that I have heard.  Reports came out  in January on the low social and environmental ratings that Apple received from Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) for its factory conditions and treatment of surrounding areas in China. (Source: CNN)

And last year, 13 suicides occurred among Foxconn workers, which, while just under the national average for China, 9 workers killed themselves within 3 months of each other. Groups have accused Foxconn of 12 hour work days for 13 days straight and beating their employees. (Source: Wired)

Foxconn denies it, but it is difficult to disregard story after story.  And even though Apple audits all its factories each year, it seems like they only have reports to show for it.

If only this was like Nike was for me in the 90s. I never truly boycotted Nike. I just happened to have a runner’s stride that did better in Asics. And I loved “Just Do It” {swoosh}  But the boycott was needed and worked. (Source: NPR)

But with Apple, I can’t pretend with another brand because I don’t own any other brands.  And I don’t want to own another brand.  I don’t want to boycott Apple.  And  I’m not alone:

While our concern is for those who lost their lives or were injured, RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky checked with his sources to find out how the tragedy will affect Apple’s production of the iPad 2. (Source: Mashable)

Because we all want our iPads.

Because my iPhone is my BFF.

Because I wrote this post on a MacBook.

Because my first thought was: Why couldn’t it have been a Crapberry factory?

Because there is a pattern of disregard by Apple, not for the quality of the product, but for the quality of life for factory workers, and there is a pattern of disregard by us yuppie, hipster, mama, teenager, neighbor, friend Mac-lovers.

Maybe 3 people dying with be enough to change Apple’s mind.

Because I want to be someone who lives what I say that I believe.

But I want to keep saying it through my iPhone.

There is a one man show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, that a reader, Jen, mentioned to me.  She kindly sent me a list from that show of what we can do if we have concerns about Apple’s practices.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

32 thoughts to “I Want Apple To Be A Good Company So I Can Keep Upgrading My iPhone”

  1. I recently went to an Ethical Society meeting where the talk was about child labor. I felt the same way afterward, except about EVERYTHING I buy. Well, not about the brand loyalty, but just how I wish every company would care enough about fair working conditions and how I wish it were easier to be an ethical consumer. It’s really hard to call ourselves out for supporting questionable companies, but it’s necessary. Thanks as always for a very thought-provoking post!

    1. It does feel like everything is tainted in some way. It makes me wonder how anyone can defend deregulation of companies when it’s so obvious what happens when there is no oversight.

  2. I…this hit home for me today. But I can’t admit how right now. Privacy issues and such.

    I swear I haven’t killed anyone though.

  3. You are quite wrong. There were four times more suicides by workers at GM plants in the last year than at Foxconn plants. Foxconn offers the “Cadillac” of places to work for Chinese. Competition to work in these plants is fierce, because conditions are SO MUCH BETTER than at other Chinese plants and because the pay is so much higher.

    You are comparing Western (U.S., Europe) working conditions with those of what is still in many respects a 3rd-world country, and you are making better the enemy of any job at all.

    Without Apple, these people would be out in the cold. And Apple does care, it has done an incredible amount of good to insure reasonable working conditions.

    But there is only so much Apple can do in a non-capitalist country where government values lack of starvation above better working conditions.

    It would NOT BE ETHICAL to deprive these people of jobs and food for their kids because we don’t like the working conditions, which are among the best working conditions in that country.

    1. Can you leave links to where you get your information around comparing Foxconn to other, such as GM, plants? In my research, I never saw anyone refer to Foxconn as top of the line working conditions, but I’m open to being wrong. And I could find nothing on 52 (4 times as many) suicides in GM plants in China.
      And while I understand that idea that any job is better than no job, I think that isn’t an excuse for exploiting workers who are that desperate for jobs and income.
      And do you really believe that Apple is in China to help these workers have jobs?

  4. How is any on this Apple’s fault? Lots of Apple’s competitors also have Foxconn build their electronics. If Apple is to compete successfully, it must employ foreign contractors just as they do.

    Apple tries to set standards for reasonable working conditions, but ultimately it is Foxconn’s management, and Chinese business and safety regulators that determine what actually happens in those plants.

    Do you really think “evil” Apple instructs Foxconn to cut corners on safety, and work employees to the point of suicide? This is all about the carelessness and greed of Foxconn to squeeze out a few extra bucks or profit.

    Are you as a consumer willing to forgo foreign-manufactured goods (most of which are produced under less than ideal to downright terrible conditions)? Even products assembled in the USA frequently contain parts and materials from elsewhere. And don’t think that working conditions in US factories are a bed of roses these days either.

    Ok, so you want to put the onus of Apple. They are between a rock and a hard place. If Apple were to threaten to boycott Foxconn, where else should they go to find another contractor who wouldn’t also be just as careless and/or corrupt? Companies have been skirting safety regulations and exploiting workers since time immemorial, and will likely continue to do so, especially in countries where government is in collusion with the corporations (which is increasingly everywhere).

    1. One of the points of this piece was that, as a consumer, I don’t want to give up what I like and want. I singled out Apple precisely because they are so hard for me to be dislike or give up. And, also, because I see them as an industry leader who could encourage others to have better practices.

      I saw one person suggest that Apple build a factory here in the US, but not being someone in the corporate world, I’m not sure how feasible that would be. Do you know?

      I just think that the excuse that “everyone else is doing it” is a poor one. Do you think that the answer is to ignore it ? Accept that it’s “the way it is”? That seems so… sad.

  5. Hopefully more Apple lovers like you will speak up and they will do what is necessary to ensure their products are user, and maker, friendly.

      1. I think “lazy activist” is an oxymoron and probably would cause spontaneous combustion. I consider this post and your how to help link as a great effort.

  6. This makes me sad…I haven’t heard about this, and I don’t like to hear about a company not working with it’s factory workers and treating them well!

  7. We all know that 3 Chinese workers is not enough to make Apple change because let’s face it, Americans don’t care about the Chinese workers, only the products they produce cheaply for us. Americans can barely work up enough sympathy for their own people, let alone a foreign one.

      1. Some Americans go out of their way to help Americans….Some Americans go out of their way to help foreign children, workers, women, etc. However, the majority, a huge percentage…just don’t.

        Case in point Joplin, MO: Eric Cantor, House Rep. blocking funds for emergency money and help. And how many Americans really come through, how many based on percentages have donated or given? How many can, how many are basically trying to make the decision to feed their kids or have electricity thanks to rising costs of food and gas/power? And why are those prices rising…speculation…..the same reason for the housing bust, the same reason for gas prices…When are Americans going to get outraged? The rest of the world is.

        Case in point: New Orleans….need I say more…

        1. What case in point? Tens of thousands voluteered to go to New Orleans. I was one of them. I had big plans for Labor Day weekend but left my house at 400 AM that Sat morning to go help. I ended up staying two months. I guess you are upset because FEMA forgot to issue all of us magic wands? New flash genius, you build a city on the coast LITERALLY below sea level and a cat 4 hurricane hits dead on and no amount of government aid is going make everything OK. And by the way, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in New Orleans could have left and chose not to.

          As far as Cantor is concerned, your making the tired old liberal attack on anyone not of your thinking who is trying to be fiscally responsible. Cantor never said deny or hold back the aid, he simply said (rightfully) the funds to pay for it should be taken out of other descretionary spending rather than just adding more debt to the dung pile. Like we eliminate a pet program in congressmen x’s district or a subsidy in caucus y’s lobby or any one of dozens of unfunded mandates. It’s called paying for things. You liberals should try it.

          1. As a resident of Missouri and a native of Joplin, I have to respectfully disagree with your claim that arguments against Cantor are just a “tired old liberal attack” against those who are fiscally responsible. A quick Google search on the matter shows that Cantor was quoted stating, “if there is support for a supplemental” appropriation, “it would be accompanied by support for having pay-fors to that supplemental.” A pay-for is either a tax increase or a budget cut. Since Cantor does not support tax increases on the wholesale level, this means a budget cut. Cantor, in my opinion, needs to be told that this is not the time to play politics. It makes him look like a jerk and does nothing but slow down aid to Joplin.

            1. You prove my point: “A quick Google search on the matter shows that Cantor was quoted stating, “if there is support for a supplemental appropriation, it would be accompanied by support for having pay-fors to that supplemental. A pay-for is either a tax increase or a budget cut. Since Cantor does not support tax increases on the wholesale level, this means a budget cut.”

              He is saying what any responsible leader of our federal government SHOULD be saying. We have to PAY FOR STUFF! This included. We have to stop borrowing in mass from the Chinese and Arabs to pay for everything and passing the debt burden off to the next administration or generation. We SHOULD cut the budget somewhere else when a huge unexpected expense in incurred. Everytime. Otherwise we end up with a 14 trillion dollar debt (with no end in sight) and it get passed on to our kids. AND, you end up with the Fed and Treasury continually depressing the value of the dollar in order to keep the interest on that huge debt somewhere near managable. This fact of course means that the money you and I take home has reduced purchaing power. So just to be able to pay the interest on the debt, all consumers are able to purchase fewer goods and services. Less milk, eggs and butter.

              FEMA has ample funds for the initial needs and it should take only one legislative session (about 3 hours) to cut several billion in pork from the budget to make up the additional funds required. You say there should be no no politics invovled. That’s impossible in a system where we the people send our money to the government and elect representatives to manage it. Only in dictatorships and communist regimes can that money be allocated without regard to politics. The travesty is that we do not hold our elected officials accountable to the point of maintaining a simple budget that spends no more than is taken in. And when someone stands up and advocates that, he gets crucified in the press (see Paul Ryan).

              FYI – I worked the disaster from Sunday night through Wednesday so I am well aware of the support that is needed. That doesn’t mean it should be provided as a blank check without cuts in other less important programs to compensate. That is why we send those leaders to Washington – to manage the affairs and purse strings of the nation.

              1. And you’ve missed my point– We all know there’s a FEMA rainy day fund. We all know that the federal government will need to make allocations to cover the monies expended out of that rainy day fund. The fact that this was not done in three hours, by Cantor et all, five days ago, and instead he chose to spend his time making it a political event by taking precious time to push his agenda in front of the media– that’s what makes this appalling.

                I am glad that you are volunteering your time, however. Thank you for helping.

  8. It’s such a tough situation, because we often don’t think about where our stuff comes from unless something like this comes up. We have a shiny iPhone 3G, our friend gets a shinier iPhone 4, we covet, we buy, we don’t think about how it is made. And it’s not just you or me, it is millions of people demanding millions+ of products at affordable prices and the reality is that, either those demands are met (and people elsewhere who are barely on the periphery of our imagination suffer to meet them) or they aren’t and people complain that it’s too hard to get, or it’s too expensive, or whatever.

    And it’s not just Apple or computer products — it’s clothing, it’s home goods, it’s food, it’s everything. We see something, we want it, we get it. I don’t know what the answer is, except that somehow we have to work towards changing the instant-gratification consumerist mindset of our culture. Sometimes I try to be conscientious about where I buy from and how necessary it is to my life, but it is hard to look at labels all the time and pay extra for conscientious items (or invest the time to hunt for and buy used) and raise two small kids and manage daily life all at the same time.

    A dialog with companies is definitely a part of it, but I think consumer awareness is hugely important, too — to get a critical mass of people demanding change and being willing to take on the extra cost that change will require.

  9. I’m happy that people are once again realizing that the economic choices we make are indeed moral choices. We have to start buying with justice in mind. We have to support workers who want a just wage, shorter hours, safer conditions, and benefits. We have to support them in China. We have to support them here in the United States.

  10. I have a hard time with electronics (especially cell phones and computers) due to the conflict metals and minerals used to make them. There are possible changes coming with some new regulations and laws that have been passed the last couple of years, but until they work out a way to adequately monitor the metals and the smelting plants, I don’t see much changing for the Congolese people.

  11. I have to say, as much as I want an iPhone, an iMac, and especially an iPad, I have not been able to bring myself to actually buy any of these things. Now, I did not know about the specific problems you mentioned above, but I do have problems with products that aren’t American made. And talk about expensive! It would be one thing if the company paid a living wage and had wonderful working conditions for its employees, but to charge so much (Seriously, I got a kick-ass Dell laptop for 1/3rd the cost of a MacBook Pro?) and not be able to show that those profits are being passed on to the workers (yes, I know this makes me sound communist or something)– I just can’t stomach it.

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