Dear fellow Apple enthusiasts,
How many of you care about the Chinese factory-workers that produce our iPads; and
if you do care, would you be willing to pay 11% more, if that would improve labor and environmental conditions?
You may have heard stories about the working conditions in the Chinese factories that produce Apple's products, but you may not have heard how the story began:
Mike Daisey, an Apple enthusiast and monologist, heard a report that someone had received an iPhone with photos taken from inside the factory. Apparently every iPhone's camera is tested in the factory, but on this camera the test images had not been deleted.
Every year we gather with friends and family to be entertained by huge patriotic football players and witty corporate speech. Many times the corporations personify themselves as animals. There are the burping frogs, the prancing horses, and a talking gecho, not to mention the occasional sexy woman.
Yet while, we say we care about each and every Chinese worker whose labor we consume, their image is not "humanized" in the same way. Perhaps that is because the Chinese factory worker does not have a budget to spend, or a marketing firm to represent them.
If an Apple factory worker were an animal, what type of animal would they be and how could their speech get the same attention as the talking horses and donkeys?
Last week, while I was reading an article in the New York Times about factory conditions at the plants that produce electronics, like Apple's iPad, I began to question my enthusiasm for the upcoming iPad release, and Jackie's song started to play in my head.
Jackie says that the song is about "people who don't have the luxury that we have"; and it speaks about war, hunger, and poverty -- huge issues that seem impossible for one person to address. Yet, even in something as basic as the working conditions in the electronics plants that produce my luxuries, I feel powerless. From what I hear, other electonics firms are similar, leaving my only option -- buy or boycott all electronics products (its not just Apple).
Do all "consumers" only care about the lowest prices? Do we see the workers who produce our products as fellow humans, who as Jackie says are made in the image of God?
The easy thing for us to do is to put the entire ethical burden on Apple and other vendors; and wash our hands of it.
I do believe that Apple has a responsibility to improve the way they treat their (supplier's) workers, yet that does not absolve me of my complicity.
Over the past week, I've talked to people; I researched online; and I've listened ..
A collegue of mine at work liked the idea of Apple creating a parallel product line for which "image-conscious consumers" would pay a premium for more ethically-sourced versions.
H22 is when we voluntarily spend 22% more to express our human values.
I chose the somewhat arbitrary markup of 22%, because, like Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, it seems to take a gimick to break into the news cycle. My goal is to start a conversation by signaling that there is demand for better environmental and labor standards. As a rough guide, I drew on Harvard Business Review blogger Umair Haque, who recently did a back-of-the envelope estimate that a Fair-Labor iPod would cost 23% more.
There are a lot of other electronic brands, but Apple has:
In short, Apple is in the best position to lead, once we, the "consumers", express our values.
Apple products are already luxuries of a sort, yet in talking to people at my church, I was told that most people wouldn't care.
"Only 1% would voluntarily pay more."
That's an interesting number. Are they right?
If you want to send a message that more than 1% care enough to to pay more, show your support by "liking" this on facebook or retweeting it on twitter:
Yes, i, too, believe .. that companies should set higher standards in producing their products and I'm willing to take the lead by paying my part. To get the conversation started, I'm offering to pay 11% more for a more humanely-sourced product. I call on Apple to match my offer, dollar for dollar.
I expect that new facts and uncomfortable complexities will emerge as the conversation develops, but it is a conversation worth pursuing.
Somewhere in China, there is at least one young man working at a factory who can sing like this:
Perhaps rather than giving the money directly to Apple, we could fund an independent organization that promotes best practices and inspects all willing suppliers. This would decouple the inspectors from the inspected, ensuring that their incentives are aligned with our values and true transparency takes place.
Given existing product life-cycles, even at higher prices, I don't expect Apple to start producing iPads in the US because, even though labor costs are only a small fraction of the cost more-automated assembly lines like those in the auto industry can't be overhauled to meet changing demands as quickly as the Apple's more labor-intensive Chineses assembly lines. But that shouldn't be a excuse not to do better..
In China, sparrows were villified for stealing grain.
"Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what's really going on inside the company."
~ Cluetrain Manifesto #28
Mike Daisey's story was not literally true, the type of truth that that journalism requires, but a stylized compilation of fragments Mike encountered or read about, exaggerated by a factor of 2.2.
If you listen to the retraction, starting at 50 minutes, you will hear Charles Duhigg say that that the razor-thin profit margin Apple permits it suppliers is the source of a lot of the problems and that Apple could more fairly build the phone for only $10-$65 more, but so far Americans have been willing to accept harsh working conditions for others, if it saves Apple and them a few bucks.