So, did you read that New York Times article about the crappy conditions for the Foxconn workers who assemble iPhones and iPads? Dang, that’s tragic stuff. Even worse, did you hear about all the workers that have committed suicide because of the awful conditions?
I’ve got an idea: let’s all throw away our iPhones! I mean, we should, right? After all, despite CEO Tim Cook’s claim that Apple, “[cares] about every worker in [its] worldwide supply chain,” Apple’s own report indicates that 62% of inspected factories are not meeting working hours standards. One of the workers who committed suicide even “worked 286 hours in the month before he died, including 112 hours of overtime.” And the same report indicates that more than 20% of factories utilize involuntary labor.
I guess it comes as no surprise that Apple executives have praised Foxconn, describing their efficiency as “breathtaking.”
So, how about it, anybody up for a Boston Phone Party? I mean, Apple makes $368 off of a $560 phone, and only $14 goes to Foxconn for assembly. So let’s teach them that they can afford to stop working people to death and using slave labor! Let’s vote with our dollars!
What’s that? Me first?
Well, I guess we can talk about this thing a little more.
Problem is, if we threw away everything with a component assembled at Foxconn, then we wouldn’t have any computers or smartphones left to connect to the Internet and complain.
So how do we express our moral outrage? How do we tell Apple we want them to contract with manufacturers who will treat their employees well–or, better yet, bring some of those jobs back to the United States?
We can’t. Because we’re operating in an environment with a high degree of moral separation, companies and individuals alike are making choices based on direct benefit while ignoring abstract moral principles. That worker who logged 286 hours in the month before he committed suicide–he made about $1 per hour of work, counting overtime pay. Apple isn’t going to get that kind of bang for their buck in the United States, and any discussion beyond that fact is merely equivocation and rationalizing.
And you’re not going to throw your iPhone into the Boston Har–err, trash bin. Don’t feel bad, I’m not either. The everyday experience of enjoying this technology is much more real to us than thinking about dead factory workers on the other side of the globe.
This does not make us bad people. This makes us normal people, endowed with but a limited ability to make decisions based on consequences that we won’t directly observe. If we had to watch a Chinese worker be torn apart by shrapnel right in front of us every time we checked our phones for a new text, we’d discard them immediately. But the abstract knowledge that workers are dying does not motivate us.
We can either resign ourselves to the notion that we are all self-interested phonies who care more about convenience than human dignity, or we can recognize that humans need immediate consequences to motivate their actions. And that means figuring out a way to lessen moral separation.
Now, if you’re bold enough to stop buying Apple products, then power to you go do it. Steve Jobs was an asshole, Apple is corrupt, and they don’t deserve our money. Hell, I might actually get rid of my iPhone afterall. But you and I aren’t going to stop them with our tiny boycott, and we’re not going to convince millions of other Apple fans to join a consumer revolt. Even if we did, that’s one company out of countless.
Consumption politics is not the answer. Structural changes are. What do I mean by that? Stay tuned, my friends.