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Susannah Meyer Headshot

The Controversy Over Apple's Factories

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Every week at my school, I hear person after person complain about their Dell laptop. Students constantly wonder why our school doesn't use Apple products. We've all been told the reason is because of insurance and financial convenience. But recently, worker conditions at Apple factories, along with Apple's response to this situation, have both shown themselves to be factors that may substantiate the school's choice of products.

In the last month, Apple Inc. has released an audit stating that nearly 100 of its factories force more than half of their workers to work over 60 hours every week, with extremely abusive conditions throughout each day. Apple has also announced that it was responsible for multiple aluminum dust explosions in factories in China that killed four workers and injured 77 others. Workers are reportedly woken, having slept in crowded dorms on site of the factories, in the middle of the night and forced onto 12-hour shifts whenever Apple needs to make any adjustment to a product. Not only that, but Apple has also admitted to child labor.

With Apple's reputation usually being perceived as reliable, it was expected that Apple would fix this surprising dilemma. Although the company looked at this situation in a more serious light than a previous situation of a string of worker suicides, it appears as if Apple just wants to change the image of working conditions in factories and not the conditions themselves.

Through "reputation management" consultants, Apple has been giving apologies in an extremely vague manner, leaving a huge gap of transparency, as well as getting involved with the Fair Labor Association. However, this seemed to be enough for most means of media and, surprisingly, even some activists. These meaningless actions did not slip by some more doubtful thinkers who have rightfully said that these apologies came about as a result of consumer pressure.

The way Apple is handling this leak of knowledge mirrors how Nike first handled a situation when information of their horrible, sweatshop-like factories got out to the public. Nike became affiliated with the FLA, just as Apple has, and was known to spend hundreds of million of dollars on factory "monitoring," all of which led to little avail. Apple, which seems to be going down the same path, will hopefully have a different outcome. The reason why this type of monitoring does not make any real impact is because the workers' rights 'experts' who are hired either work directly for the corporation they are monitoring or in 'NGO' mode. As stated in an article on AlterNet, "NGOs sell their monitoring services to the big brands that are seeking cover while their supplier factories continue the same profitable patterns of worker abuse." Through this, which will lead right back to the same issue, it is clear that Apple has not made astounding progress, for just last week Terry Gou, CEO of one of Apple's manufacturers, Foxconn, referred to his workers as 'animals.'

This transparent attempt to conceal the abusive conditions of Apple's factories leads to a less than desirable impression. The fact that Apple appears to be just trying to hide these horrible conditions in order to save its reputation actually seems to lessen the company's reputation as a whole. In my opinion, having these conditions present in the first place is wrong, but apologizing solely to please the media without taking action to better the factories far surpasses being just wrong.

This being said, an order of over 500 Apple laptops, chargers, disk drives, and other accessories would most likely take a toll on these strained factory workers. Insurance and convenience may be two practical reasons as to why my school chooses to use Dell products, but the state of Apple's factories may now serve as one ethical reason that supports the school's choice.