#HUMANFOOTPRINT

Posted on January 26, 2012


From the New York Times

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:

#HUMANFOOTPRINT

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Posted in: Opinion
5 Responses “#HUMANFOOTPRINT” →

  1. Cheryl Nilson

    January 26, 2012

    I too was concerned about this report and even more about a CNN report earlier this week about child slavery and chocolate production. I’ve been looking for a fair trade cocoa powder this week, but the situation is pretty complex. Not only are we dependent on others for the accuracy of the information, but it’s also difficult to know just how our actions will affect people. Will our choices as concerned consumers deprive the very people we’re concerned about of a job they need to feed or educate their children? A similar concern (and complexity) applies to immigration reform. Many immigrants can send home money to their families out of a low salary here and go home to live decently in a less expensive economy; their unemployed US-born neighbors can’t reap the same benefits from the same pay level. The low wages help us all to afford more, not just those of us in the middle class who should be concerned about this, but also poorer neighbors who depend on cheap goods and services too. Whose plight will we measure–very poor people in other countries, the poor and demoralized unemployed here, or the working poor here? A HumanFootprint measurement would be a good thing, but it would have to be very complex to be a good guide.


    • peterwchin

      January 26, 2012

      i agree – for many in developing countries, these supposedly oppressive jobs would be the best thing they had ever seen, and probably the quickest route for their country as a whole to move forward. plus every culture and nation is very different in how they view employment, rights, and advancement. but despite this, i think there are hallmarks of fair employment that are universal to humans – a working environment that is safe and non-toxic, a wage that is appropriate for the cost of living in that nation, assurances that employees are not children or exploited or trafficked. it’s not as comprehensive as what we expect in the united states, but it’s better than simply ignoring the issue altogether. it would be simple, it would be incomplete, but it would be a start!


  2. Cheryl Nilson

    February 7, 2012

    Thanks for keeping this in front of my conscience–I signed the petition to Apple.


    • peterwchin

      February 8, 2012

      i did too! now, if we could just get mcdonalds to stop putting the left over bits of animals into their food…

1 Trackback For This Post
  1. my wee response to: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad (New York Times) « little & loud

    […] don’t own a smartphone; i’m not planning to anytime soon. peter already makes a good point, that we consumers need to consider the human footprint our demand […]

#HUMANFOOTPRINT

Posted on January 26, 2012


From the New York Times

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. Read On…

Posted in: Opinion
5 Responses “#HUMANFOOTPRINT” →

  1. Cheryl Nilson

    January 26, 2012

    I too was concerned about this report and even more about a CNN report earlier this week about child slavery and chocolate production. I’ve been looking for a fair trade cocoa powder this week, but the situation is pretty complex. Not only are we dependent on others for the accuracy of the information, but it’s also difficult to know just how our actions will affect people. Will our choices as concerned consumers deprive the very people we’re concerned about of a job they need to feed or educate their children? A similar concern (and complexity) applies to immigration reform. Many immigrants can send home money to their families out of a low salary here and go home to live decently in a less expensive economy; their unemployed US-born neighbors can’t reap the same benefits from the same pay level. The low wages help us all to afford more, not just those of us in the middle class who should be concerned about this, but also poorer neighbors who depend on cheap goods and services too. Whose plight will we measure–very poor people in other countries, the poor and demoralized unemployed here, or the working poor here? A HumanFootprint measurement would be a good thing, but it would have to be very complex to be a good guide.


    • peterwchin

      January 26, 2012

      i agree – for many in developing countries, these supposedly oppressive jobs would be the best thing they had ever seen, and probably the quickest route for their country as a whole to move forward. plus every culture and nation is very different in how they view employment, rights, and advancement. but despite this, i think there are hallmarks of fair employment that are universal to humans – a working environment that is safe and non-toxic, a wage that is appropriate for the cost of living in that nation, assurances that employees are not children or exploited or trafficked. it’s not as comprehensive as what we expect in the united states, but it’s better than simply ignoring the issue altogether. it would be simple, it would be incomplete, but it would be a start!


  2. Cheryl Nilson

    February 7, 2012

    Thanks for keeping this in front of my conscience–I signed the petition to Apple.


    • peterwchin

      February 8, 2012

      i did too! now, if we could just get mcdonalds to stop putting the left over bits of animals into their food…

2 Trackbacks For This Post
  1. my wee response to: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad (New York Times) « little & loud

    […] don’t own a smartphone; i’m not planning to anytime soon. peter already makes a good point, that we consumers need to consider the human footprint our demand […]

  2. my wee response to: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad (New York Times) « little & loud

    […] don’t own a smartphone; i’m not planning to anytime soon. peter already makes a good point, that we consumers need to consider the human footprint our demand […]

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