Three years ago, whilst completing my Business A-Levels, I came across a story that completely changed my mind on ethical consumerism; the working conditions at the Chinese company, Foxconn. I cannot say that it was my first encounter with an article that called for a change, but usually, these articles are related to animal rights and environmental impacts. Now, I would like to assure the readers that I am in no way claiming that these factors are not highly important or are in any form less important than human rights. As you may see, our blog does not only fight for human rights but also calls for a change when it comes to products that harm animals and the environment. However, the reason behind the extreme shock was probably due to the fact that I could empathise more with those within my own species.
As an 18 year old, I could not fathom the stress and the pressure that one must feel in a working place for it to drive them to suicide. According to a report in 2011, Foxconn had been treating their workers “inhumanely, like machines” (Chamberlain, 2011). Workers claimed to have been forced to work for 100 hours of overtime in addition to their average of 44 hours each week. Furthermore, if they were suspected of bad performance, they could be humiliated in front of the rest of the employees. After many incidents of suicide, where employees had begun to throw themselves off the roof or from the windows, the rest of the employees were made to sign papers asserting that they would never take their own lives. In addition to the statements, nets were attached around the building to prevent those who attempt suicide, from actually dying. The big question is, instead of making them promise not to kill themselves, why don’t t
hey improve conditions so that workers would not want to commit suicide?
Nets were attached around the building to prevent those
who attempt suicide, from actually dying.
What I find even more surprising is the fact that the publication of these reports had no effect on the sales of the products produced by this company, such as iPhones and iPads. These reports not only came out in 2011, but were also revived in 2014, when reporters went undercover and pretended to work as employees (France-Presse, 2014). They evidence showed that the promises made in 2011 to improve workers’ situations had been broken on multiple levels; long working hours, horrible living condition and juvenile workers. However, Apple denied the charges claiming that, “We are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions.” Apple claimed that they were working to the best of their capabilities to put an end to this and after the suicide reports in 2010, they even published a set of principles that they asked the factories to abide by in regards to the treatment of the employees. However, undercover reporters in 2014, found that most of these rules and standards were breached within the walls of the factories.
“We are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions.”
Nonetheless, as pointed out previously, these reports seem to have had absolutely no effect on the way people perceive or consume Apple products. It would also be fair to point out that Foxconn, does not only produce Apple products but its production also has links with Samsung and Nokia phones as well (Kan, 2012). This could be one of the main reasons as to why sales have not dropped. You could be thinking, “Yeah, well if all the phone companies are related and work with Foxconn, then I don’t really have any choice. Therefore, I should not feel bad about my consumer habits, since I am being forced”.
Fortunately, this is not true at all. Yes, it may be impossible to find any large company that 100% follows the ethical guideline. However, there are mobile companies that are much more ethical than Apple, Samsung and Nokia. They may not have the exact features as these smartphones do, but, I think I speak for a large number of people when I say that another human being’s life is much more valuable than Siri’s. Below is a link to The Good Shopping Guide website where they have compared and contrasted over 10 phone companies. They have provided us with a very detailed ethical table, ranking all the companies in an ethical order, based on different activities such as human rights, political donations, etc. The table shows Fairphone to be one of the most ethical phone companies, and unsurprisingly rates Apple and Samsung as one of the least ethical companies.
Producers of Fairphone had stated that they were aware of the hardships of creating an ethical smartphone when only two of the minerals found – tin and tantalum – are derived from validated mines. However, they have now succeeded and their product is made of aluminum and recycled plastic, which not only makes it ethical but sustainable as well. In addition, they are produced in a factory that ensures health and safety working conditions, as well as decent wages to its workers. Furthermore, they have the amazing feature of being built to be repairable. There is an app available that provides how-to guides for users to be able repair and replace parts. Therefore, if you thought that amazing smartphones and ethics were mutually exclusively, you should think again.
In conclusion, if you were part of the group that was aware of the issues at Foxconn and believed that there was no alternative, you can now go and have a look at this detailed ranking table and hopefully take an action. Some of you may think that your individual shopping habits cannot have any impact on companies, however this is completely untrue. If you begin taking steps, such as buying phones from companies that are ethical and/or spreading the message, soon enough, sales may begin to drop and companies, such as Apple, will be forced to take serious actions in regards to the troublesome conditions at Foxconn.
The Good Shopping Guide: http://www.thegoodshoppingguide.com/ethical-mobile-phones/
Chamberlain, G. (2011, April 30). Apple’s Chinese workers treated ‘inhumanely, like machines’. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from The guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/apr/30/apple-chinese-workers-treated-inhumanely
France-Presse, A. (2014, December 19). Apple under fire again for working conditions at Chinese factories. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from The guardian : https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/dec/19/apple-under-fire-again-for-working-conditions-at-chinese-factories
Kan, M. (2012, October 24). Foxconn builds products for many vendors, but its mud sticks to Apple. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from computerworld: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2492795/it-careers/foxconn-builds-products-for-many-vendors–but-its-mud-sticks-to-apple.html