Talking tech since 2003

As you’ve probably heard, the BBC is airing a documentary – along with a companion report – regarding poor working conditions at Apple’s Asian suppliers. Apple’s response, among other statements, is that they “are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions.”

The issue with all of this comes from the simple fact of using any third-party suppliers, especially ones located in countries with less-than-stellar human rights track records. The reason China is such an important electronics supplier to tech companies the world over is because they are able to violate the rules and codes of ethics without fear of reprisal in general. Blame the government in the countries where these factories are located, or blame the cutthroat competition among tech companies to maximize profits and maintain huge supplies.

Yes, it’s Apple’s responsibility to make sure that they use suppliers that adhere to their standards. But that’s also nearly impossible given the current conditions of the tech industry.

“Nearly impossible,” is the key phrase, of course. If Apple took less of a profit on each device sold, chances seem good that it could devote some capital to using suppliers in more ethically aware areas. If they used suppliers in the United States, for instance, those factories would be subject to American labor rules and laws. It might drive the cost of production up – which many companies would say also should drive the final consumer price up. But there are always ways to keep prices down, stay profitable, and use ethical sources.

And let’s also not forget: Apple probably is doing more than any other company to ensure the best practices are used at its suppliers. That’s because Apple is the top dog, and it knows it’s subject to more scrutiny than most. That doesn’t mean that the BBC’s findings are inaccurate, but it’s much easier to generate outrage and ratings by targeting one of the most beloved tech companies on the planet. It’s somewhat unfair of the BBC to target Apple specifically since just about every other tech company – ranging from Samsung, to Microsoft, to Sony, to Nintendo, and many more – get their products from the exact same factories.

Let’s not let these revelations fall by the wayside, and call on all tech companies to use more ethical sources for production. But let’s also not forget that conditions exist in other nations that allow these factories to repeatedly violate international labor laws and agreed-upon human rights. And finally, the ultimate responsibility ends with us – the consumers. If we stop buying products that aren’t produced ethically, there will be less incentive for companies to rely on suppliers that don’t respect the rights we take for granted.

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