I write this article with a bit of shame from behind my Macbook and my iPhone resting close by. Like any other modern citizen, I use my fair share of electronics from computers to mp3 players and even a smart phone. And as a labor conscious and environmentally aware consumer I tend to support companies who meet my ethics. Unfortunately, the electronics industry is seriously lacking in both fields. One of the great offenders happens to be one of the highest grossing electronic companies: Apple Inc.
The past few weeks have been a big disappointment for caring Apple customers. It begun a few weeks ago, during a shareholders meeting, Corporate and shareholders rejected new environmental standards. They voted against proposals which would have required Apple to provide a detailed environmental sustainability report and create a board committee focused on sustainability. Apple claims they are already taking motions to secure environmental sustainability of their products, however, have not given details.
The company also has been threatening a patent war with other smart phone creators such as Google and Samsung. Yesterday they started with a new and small company HTC, suing them for infringement on their patents. All other companies with similar phones to the iPhone, have been shot with warnings about being sued. Although, this seems like business as usual in the US, the patent war may reduce the competition in the smart phone world, which means less choices for consumers and bigger bucks for the Apple Corporation, who in the midst of a recession is not hurting one bit.
But the worst news coming out of Apple are the Labor Audit Reports released this week. Like most electronic companies, Apple outsources most of their manufacturing to many countries including China, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Czech Republic. The reports don’t name specific violations for each factory but there were 17 major labor violations including children working in the factories, workers on the job for more than 60 hours a week, workers paid under minimum wage, and lack of environmental permits. The report shows that a total of 11 workers were found to be underage and a total of 57% of their factories do not comply with safety standards to protect their workers. Although, Apple released the reports to the public themselves and have promised to be working on these violations, it still doesn’t take away the fact that they exist. We all know how horrible sweatshops and child labor can be, in fact I spend many hours of my life trying to combat such violations. This report which details all violations is not only a surprise to me as a consumer but a disappointment. These types of abuses are inexcusable and abhorrent; something simply must be done!
But what can we do? The easiest answer is to boycott a company with such labor violations. However, with the electronics industry, we, the consumers have little choice. Most electronic and computer companies continue to source their manufacturing overseas in questionable factories. In fact, the International Labor Rights Forum has done some investigating into some of the sourcing for electronics and has found nothing to be happy about. It seems this industry is full of labor and environmental mishaps. Good news is, there are people beginning to fight it. ILRF has begun to demand transparency within the industry and an organization called Good Electronics monitors electronic companies and sends out appeals. You can even check how your favored company matches up.
So if an outright boycott is out the door, what options do you have? You can purchase your electronics refurbished or used, so that your dollars aren’t going straight to the pockets of industry giants such as Apple. But if used electronics makes you nervous you can demand accountability and transparency from these companies. Contact them directly and let them know how you feel about labor rights and environmental standards. Let’s stand up together against this industry, because in the way of this modern world their products are a unfortunately or not a necessity. Let’s demand the companies be more responsible and you can start by letting Apple know you think their labor and environmental choices are a bad apple!