Whereas Microsoft and others ruled the tech market in the 1990s and early 2000s, Apple has emerged in the past 10 years as the undisputed titan of the industry and has achieved an almost legendary status among businesses and consumers alike. Innovative and revolutionary products, such as the iPod and iPhone, have reached such exceptional levels of popularity among today’s consumers that it has become extremely rare to meet someone who does not own an Apple product of some kind. With this, Apple’s former CEO Steve Jobs has become an almost god-like figure, being praised as one of the greatest innovative minds of all time. Much like Fran Hawthorne points out in Ethical Chic, such great admiration for the company has created an aura around Apple that, if it is producing such amazing products, then every aspect of the company must be great.
In the radio excerpt from This American Life, Mike Daisey talks about how easy it is to fall into this trap and how his view of the company has been altered by his own personal investigation of Apple’s manufacturing practices. What was particularly compelling about Daisey’s story was how pertinent it is to my own experiences with Apple. Essentially growing up during the rise of Apple products, I too have created this image of Apple as a ‘perfect’ company that is light-years ahead of the competition. And, not surprisingly, I have not thought too much about where exactly my iPhone comes from beyond the ‘Made in China’ labeled on the back. However, Daisey points out that we should all take a closer look at this issue because, after examining it in person, it appears to be quite troubling.
Daisey’s description of the FoxConn plant in Shenzhen, China is very disturbing to hear about, but the question that remains is whether it is really enough to materially affect consumers’ attitudes about Apple and its products. It is really no secret that the majority of major US companies outsource work to factories in less regulated countries such as China and yet, consumers continue to purchase the products without fail. At the end of the day the question that remains is: are people really going to purchase a worse product because they are concerned about the conditions under which it is made? The unfortunate answer to this question is no. As more and more people start to place more emphasis on corporate responsibility, the strength of this answer may be changing, but still very gradually. Ultimately, one has to wonder what it will realistically take for people to feel compelled enough to stop purchasing from a company such as Apple because of the way that it behaves. I tend to believe that it must be something radical, but maybe time will tell.