I’m sure that more than a few of you have read this article on the NY Times about conditions at the Foxconn factories in China that make Apple products like the iPhone and iPad. If you didn’t see it there, it was also posted initially on This American Life, and other outlets as well. It is a great read/listen, and an important issue to become aware of.
As a result, most of the people I know expressed their outrage primarily at Apple, that Apple should have policed their production facilities more vigorously, especially after these abuses came to their knowledge, and especially in light of the gigantic profits that they have enjoyed the past few years. And I agree, wholeheartedly. The article makes a compelling and disturbing case that Apple did not investigate these abuses as quickly and forcefully as they should have, and people have suffered, even died as a result. We should demand that Apple be responsible for the manner in which their products are made.
But that would be a totally incomplete and inadequate response.
We should realize that this situation is not limited to Apple, not in the least. It is the consumer’s demand for the best, the fastest, and the cheapest that drives companies to find manufacturers and suppliers that can provide services at the lowest possible price point, at any cost. And all forms of commerce are driven by this dynamic, from the food that we eat, to the clothes that we wear. We are right to call out Apple and Foxconn for the inhumanity of their production process…but what about the vegetables we enjoy at such low cost, at all times of the year? Do we really think that there is no human cost to that? And how about the clothes that we wear, the diamonds that some adorn themselves with, even the chocolate we consume – every single product that we purchase, not just Apple products, has an associated human cost that we so often completely ignore. The problem is much, much broader than Apple.
The problem is also much more personal.
We should realize that the primary responsibility for this situation lies on us, the consumer. Apple is a company that exists to make money, to create profit. To maximize that profit, they search out for low cost production facilities that can meet their needs. Those production facilities in turn want to make a profit, and so provide less than humane conditions for their workers. And they provide the goods or services that we clamored for. This dynamic is really a process, a cycle. And who stands at the very start and end of that process? We, the consumer. It is my fault. It is our rampant, ignorant and largely irresponsible consumerism that is the flash point for this terrible cycle of abuse. We bought phones and produce and jewelry and electronics without the slightest thought as to where it came from, and the manner in which it was made, just as long as we wanted it bad enough and we could afford it. Surely Apple and other companies that ignore the human cost to their products bear part of the onus, but most if it lies unfortunately upon us. We wanted what we wanted, and we didn’t care to find out how it got to our pocket or our table.
And I’m not okay with that, and think it needs to change.
Recently, many people have been calling on companies to become more environmentally accountable, demanding that they provide a carbon footprint to record the toll that their products take on the earth. This is a great idea, but I think we need to expand upon it. We need to start calling companies like Apple, and countless others, to provide a HUMAN FOOTPRINT, a systematic way to prove that their products are created in a manner that is humane, safe and equitable. And if companies will not provide that accountability, we will not buy from them, no matter how incredible / cheap / convenient that product might be. And if you can, then I will buy from you, proudly and faithfully. And I’m sure many of us feel the same way, and would do the same.
It is up to US to tell these companies that we will not accept products at any cost any longer, whether that cost is environmental or human. It is up to US to think not solely as consumers, but as humans. It is up to US to say NO to the things that we crave most, if those things were built on the backs of others. These businesses depend on our money, our demands, our satisfaction. So demand it: