When it comes to customers, Apple is a bold innovator that leads the industry into new directions and forces others to follow. However, when it comes to the management of its supply chain and treatment of workers in the Chinese factories that make its products, it hides behind the constraints of prevailing industry practices. What is even more disconcerting is the fact that these practices are in violation of not only local and national laws, but also of Apple’s own voluntary self-imposed code of conduct. It is important to note that this voluntary code of conduct breaks no new ground. It is at best a modest attempt to ensure that workers will be treated fairly and provided with a safe work environment.
S. Prakash Sethi, Professor, Baruch College, and President, International Center for Corporate Accountability. Carnagie Council, Two Faces of Apple
Sethi writes that the Apple brand is divided with its hyperfocus on the finished product but lazy glance factory conditions.
iPhones, iPads, iMacs and Powerbooks are innovative works of wonder. Operations at suppliers like Foxconn? Lowest common denominator.
Sethi challenges Apple CEO Tim Cook to change the company’s split culture.
"This would call for Apple to play a leadership role and thereby solidify its reputation not only as a leading corporate innovator, but also as a leading socially responsible corporate citizen," he writes.
"One hopes that Apple will once again astonish the world by showing a new approach to building better bridges between private profit and public good."
When Mike Daisey lied to national radio audiences on This American Life, lied to the 888,000 people who downloaded the podcast (the most in the show’s history), and lied to who-knows-how-many theater audiences over two years of performing his one-man show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, he wasn’t wrong about the Chinese labor abuses that go into making iPads and other beloved American gadgets. He wasn’t wrong that Chinese workers are often subjected to horrific conditions, wasn’t wrong that Apple’s supervision of its contractor’s factories has been problematic, and wasn’t wrong that we American consumers bear an indirect but troubling moral responsibility for these abuses.
Most importantly, Mike Daisey wasn’t wrong that it is possible for Chinese authorities and Apple to substantially improve labor conditions — without making their products any more expensive or less competitive — and that American consumers can help make this happen. But he was wrong that embellishing his story would help, that bad behavior in service of a good cause ever does.