Apple addresses working conditions abroad while competitors get a free pass

Mon, Apr 9, 2012


For whatever reason or reasons, Apple is seemingly held to a higher standard than most other tech companies. This phenomenon is most apparent when it comes to working conditions in the factories that manufacture Apple products, and in particular, those owned by Foxconn.

For some inexplicable reason, perhaps because Apple has money, or perhaps because it makes for a good headline, the public is quick to call out Apple for factory working conditions while completely ignoring the multitude of other big, successful companies that also partner up with Foxconn.

Even more perplexing is that Apple is the target of everyone’s rage when they, especially under Tim Cook, have been more transparent about current labot practices and more pro-active in their attempts to alleviate horrid working conditions than their counterparts.

The New York Times recently tackled this issue, illustrating that Apple seems to get the bulk of the blame while their competitors appear to get off scott free.

Apple, no paragon of communication, has been publishing reports of the practices of its vendors since 2006, and it eventually, after numerous requests by advocacy and news organizations, shared the names of 156 direct suppliers.

It has pledged to go “deeper into the supply chain” in its own published audits.

In the last week I have asked Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Microsoft and others about their reports on labor conditions. Most responded with a boilerplate public relations message. Some didn’t even respond.

The answer from Barnes & Noble, the maker of the Nook e-reader, was typical.

Mary Ellen Keating, a senior vice president, said only, “We don’t comment on our supply chain vendors.”

Lenovo e-mailed a general report on sustainability. Samsung, which sells more cellphones than Apple, gave no response.

But I suppose that those stories don’t make for sexy headlines, and thus don’t lend themselves to pageviews, so hey, why bother, right?

That’s not to say that Apple should never be taken to task and be given a free pass simply because they do more than most, but it does mean that advocates who publicly claim to be motivated by a fundamental worker rights would be well advised to look at the entire picture.

By singling out Apple in what’s often an attention-grab, these advocates undermine their own cause and ultimately do more harm than good.


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