It was midnight when I found myself hunched over my iMac, one finger poised over the "pre-order" button for the new IPad3. Maybe my defenses were down. Or my lust for all shiny things Apple was overly aroused by the live blogs and ecstatic hype for a faster processing chip, a super-charged camera, and a retina display more dazzling than my HD television.
I'm sure my eyes were dilated, my breathing quickened, my body tense with excitement -- like any addict. But I'd carefully worked out my budget. And the iPad3 wasn't a luxury item. Every week I use my iPad2 to read and listen to books, to teach, to research, to take video and photos. With a wireless keyboard, I actually use my iPad2 as much as my computer. So why then did I hesitate to punch the "Purchase" button and send an iPad3 winging my way?
I was paralyzed by a moral dilemma. In my mind I kept seeing a re-run of those photos of Foxconn, the Chinese factory that makes our fabulous Apple products. I was troubled by the images of wide, rope nets slung on the sides of the gargantuan building -- to catch young and mortally stressed workers from jumping.
Would my ordering another iPad condemn some bleary-eyed worker-servant to run and take the fatal leap? Didn't every action affect everything else -- like those proverbial butterfly wings whose luminous, silken flaps somehow change us all -- even if we're on the other side of the world? Wasn't there now an ethical concern that I needed to factor into my purchasing power?
I decided to do my research -- loath as I was to discover anything more disturbing about my beloved Apple products. I jumped onboard the bright Google Chrome express to research and witness the many links to the story of Apple and Foxconn factory.
My favorite articles were on Mashable.Tech with its spotlight on popular petitions demanding that Apple improve labor conditions at Foxxconn.
Another excellent Mashable article pointed out that Foxxconn doesn't just supply Apple, but also Amazon, Sony, IBM, Dell, HP, Samsung, Panasonic, Motorola, Nintendo, Microsoft, Nokia, and Intel.
I was educated about Apple's dominance in a New York Times article that Apple sells "forty percent of the world's consumer electronics." And that "Apple revenue topped $108 billion, a sum larger than the state budgets of Michigan, New Jersey, and Massachusetts."
I also listened to the This American Life segment, adapted from Mike Daisey's one-man show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Daisey, an avowed Apple lover, has decided to wait to buy any new technology. A kind of tech Time Out.
After all of this research, I signed a petition on TheSumofUs.org
The petition urges Apple to step up and lead the way in factory labor improvements. I joined in asking Apple to "make the iPhone5 and your other products ethically." The petition notes, "The quality of working conditions matters as much as the quality of your products." It cites an unnamed Apple executive telling The New York Times, "Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn't have another choice."
How humane and far-sighted to ask that Apple, the world's richest company, also lead the way in setting an ethical standard for workers. Now, that would be some Butterfly Effect.
This week, the iPad3 debuts in stores. Already Apple has announced it has sold out of the new whiz-bang iPad3 in pre-sales; there will be several weeks to wait for more. Will this huge demand further stress overworked factories?
I don't want to feel guilty and ashamed when I buy my new iPad3. I don't want to be haunted by those nets and workers who labor 12 hour days, six days a week, at less than $17 a day, with no overtime; young people who live in barracks and are exposed to toxic chemicals and forced to do repetitive motions until their joints wear away. It doesn't matter that these workers are often better off than other Chinese laborers or that the Foxconn suicide rate is still less than the Chinese average.
The world is watching how Apple will handle this moral dilemma. It just released an annual report on labor conditions, listing its suppliers by name for the first time. It also announced it was joining the Fair Labor Association. These are very good first steps; but they are reactions to exposes, not humane changes initiated by Apple.
Apple can do much more. Think of it as good old American competition to see whether Apple or Microsoft, our tech overlords, can really make a difference in our bettering workers' lives. Think beyond just profit. Think reputation, leadership, integrity.
One thing you have to say about Bill Gates -- he is a mighty generous philanthropist. Can't Apple also use its massive profits to change the world? In the same way that Bill Gates uses his vast fortune to fight AIDS in Africa, Apple could use its clout to change working conditions in China and other "cheap labor" factories that make our tech toys.
This Foxxconn dilemma offers Apple a new product to be developed: A People Product, in which Apple engages its considerable genius. Elevate those who make Apple products to the same esteemed level as Apple engineers, software designers, and buyers. Factor in the factory workers.
At the end of the Nightline story on Apple and Foxconn, the reporter asks Louis Woo, the Foxxconn factory spokesman, "If Apple said, 'Hey, out of the goodness of our hearts, because we're doing so well, what if we paid everyone who touched an iPad double?' Do you think that would work?"
"Why not?" says Woo, "it would be good for the employees, good for China. Good for them and for us. Because we would have more stable workers who would love to work for our company because they would get paid a lot more than anyone else."
What an inspired idea! C'mon, Apple. Break the sweatshop tradition. For every iPad3 that is sold, double the salary of those who do the hands-on assembly. Make us Mac people proud, once again.
Benda Peterson is the author of 17 books, including the recent memoir, I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which was named among the "Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Books of 2010" by The Christian Science Monitor. Hew new book is Leopard and Silkie: One Boy's Quest to Save Seal Pups."
For more: http://www.IWantToBeLeftBehind.com