In this article, Brooke Crothers tries to argue that one should not have an ethical dilemma in purchasing products made by Apple. He is mostly speaking about the increasingly public investigations into the third party assembly factories which Apple (and other tech-sector companies) use for their products. In a somewhat joking acquiescence, Crothers even mentions that these factories often treat their assembly line workers as chattel — that is, as privately owned property. Let that sink in: he sees no issue in a company treating its workers as slaves as long as they continue to be industrial juggernauts (perhaps ‘too big to fail’?). The point many are making against Apple is not limited to Apple as Crothers suggests in his ‘don’t stop there’ attitude. What he is not expecting, though, is for people to agree with the sentiment of ‘don’t stop there’ and actually accept the ethical implications of their consumption. Instead of pushing companies like Apple to use factories which treat their workers as human beings — whether that is in the US or elsewhere — Crothers thinks such is ‘a pipe dream’.
Why? Why can’t Apple and others pay their workers fair wages, accept a ‘healthy’ work-life balance, etc? Crothers suggests its because these companies would not find enough employees who ‘live in dormitories and make a 24/7 on-call commitment to Foxconn for low wages’. No shit, Sherlock. That’s because such commitments are mostly illegal in industrialised countries for a reason. If the issue holding Apple back from having factories which comply with US labour laws (we’ll leave Europe’s labour laws out of this for now) is that they wouldn’t own slaves who can work the assembly line 15+ hours a day, 7 days a week (over 100 hours a week!), then perhaps they shouldn’t be in business. That’s not a employer-employee relationship; that’s an owner-slave relationship. It’s this lack of respect towards humans that, at best, borders on the sociopathic (at worst, it crosses well over that line).
Crothers’s final excuse is that there are US-based plants which are less ‘worker intensive’ that utilise high tech equipment rather than millions of workers who live in on-site dormitories and are at the beck and call of an owner 24/7. Why can’t, for example, Apple use such assembly line equipment (like other US-based factories)? Why can’t they employ multiple shifts of people who work 40 hours a week at a livable wage? Oh, that’s right: profit and consumption. Perhaps Apple thinks they would not sell as much if the price of their products rose to afford ‘ethical labour practises’ while keeping the same profit margins. But then, perhaps that’s because the primary markets of consumption are filled with the very people who are out of work and are told they could not afford the real cost of they themselves being employed. That is, Crothers’s article implies that industrial jobs are incompatible with current US labour laws because people might actually be paid for their work. And that is something which frightens companies like Apple because it means that they wouldn’t be simple, mindless consumers willing to sell their kidneys for a new toy.
What I’d like to see is someone take up Crothers’s rhetorical question and begin to list companies which utilise labour practises akin to slavery and the products (and parts) which are made in these conditions. Sure, Apple would be on that list. As would Motorola, Amazon, Intel, Wal-Mart, etc. However, perhaps that kind of list will make people think twice about what they buy. Perhaps, it’ll lead to a revolt against treating humans as property and resources to be used then discarded.