Response to Mike Daisey Podcast

This podcast about the issues of factory working conditions in China proved to be incredibly eye-opening. The severity of the situation in Shen Zhen goes largely overlooked, not only by the companies requiring the services of these manufacturers, but even more by the consumers that use these products. I found it very interesting when Mike Daisey spoke about the fact that all products are essentially hand made, taking hours of labor and detail work by these workers. When we purchase a new iphone, the thought of who cleaned its screen in the factory never crosses our mind. The way that these workers are treated is unacceptable, and the small measures that companies, such as apple, are taking to improve these conditions are clearly not sufficient.

Imagine a world in which each consumer takes into account such matters when deciding which product to purchase. While this seems largely unrealistic for today’s consumerist society, that is an ideal that we should desire here in the US, a country that values workers’ rights to fair pay and working conditions. If we developed a type of rating system that ranked companies in different levels of responsibility for issues such as working conditions and made this available at the time of purchase, a consumer may be more inclined to make the moral choice rather than the cheapest or most “trendy”. This shift in consumer preferences and patterns would ideally lead the companies that were not taking responsibility to take action on their suppliers and make ethical business choices. This process and rating system would require companies to have full transparency in their business processes, therefore keeping them from hiding the truth from their consumers as companies like Apple and Foxcon have been inclined to do.

It was very thought provoking to hear the perspectives on whether or not consumers should “feel guilty” buying products that were made by workers living with such unjust conditions. From the economic point of view, the consumer should not feel guilty as it is also raising the economy of the poorer regions of these countries and although the conditions are bad, they are better than the alternative of extreme poverty. I do not agree with this perspective, however, because by taking that point of view, no change will ever be made. When it comes to business ethics, I think that the consumer populations have much more power than they are willing to use. If we change consumer norms, we would be able to hold these companies accountable for their impact.


7 responses to “Response to Mike Daisey Podcast

  1. I agree with your thinking that if companies were rewarded for and able to advertise positive and ethical production strategies, that could certainly become a factor in consumers’ purchase decisions. I think that businesses recognize this and have increasingly started to differentiate themselves that way (i.e. fair trade, green production strategies, etc.). However, I don’t think we see as much of refusing to purchase from certain companies because of unethical production strategies. To many companies, I think the financial advantages of cutting production costs outweighs the possibility that they might win over some customers if they were to produce more ethically. And the fact is that although they are required to communicate some level of transparency, they are under no obligation to publicize it beyond that.
    Perhaps if the government mandated every company to report their production practices in a more public document, then it would become a much more prominent and widespread consideration for consumers. From there, in order to remain competitive, companies would be forced to improve their production strategies or they will struggle with customer retention.


  2. I think a great point is brought up about holding companies to higher standards with corporate social responsibility. I think that a type of rating system is a great idea and I know something of the sort already does exist. One of the biggest rating systems is called the UN Global Compact. Clearly it is not as publicly known as it should be, but it is more of an extra add on or recognition from an organization for a company. I think there is a need to educate the public about programs and rating systems like this. The more aware the average person is about ratings of social responsibility, the more inclined individuals will be to step up and change what they think is wrong, or not support companies who do not follow such guidelines.


  3. I like your idea of rating companies based on their level of socially responsible activity. Although I do not think such ratings could be as public or visible as, say, the nutrition ratings on the front of food packages, but it would be a step in the right direction. You correctly point out that we need to change consumer norms, although I’m sure that the rating system alone will not be enough. I think the media has an even more powerful role here, as they are the ones who often glorify Apple. If mainstream media would be willing to stick its neck out consistently and repeatedly to condemn Apple, we might have a very different situation.


  4. I like your idea of a corporate social responsibility ranking system. Upon further research, I found a Forbes article (link below) that discusses the Reputation Institute’s findings that “42% of how people feel about a company is based on their perceptions of the firm’s corporate social responsibility (CSR).” I think specifically with Apple the operative word is “perceptions.” Apple’s image evokes the feeling of corporate social responsibility even if its image does not align with its actions. As Spencer proposes above, mainstream media can play a crucial role in separating the perception and the reality to educate consumers more thoroughly.


  5. It is hard to believe that nearly all of these products are assembled by hand. Apple and Foxconn certainly possess technology that could replace pieces of the workforce, but in a country with a population over one billion, employment is not so easy to come by. I wonder how third-party opinions of Apple and Foxconn would differ if more technology played a role in how our iPhone was assembled. Despite the meager working conditions, Foxconn and Apple are putting hundreds of thousands of people to work. The way in which workers are treated is clearly wrong, but for the workers, having a job is better than not having a job, especially with millions of people ready to jump onto the assembly line at Foxconn. It’s sad but unfortunately true.


    • Your comment on consumers taking the working conditions of their purchases into consideration was very interesting. When you go into an organic supermarket, your meat comes with a rating, 1 through 5, of the conditions the animal living in prior to being in that supermarket. Level 1 signifies that its life was average, it wasn’t kept in a pen but it didn’t have sprawling landscapes to move around in. Level 5 is, clearly, the best treated poultry/meat/eggs in the country. We already take our foods technical “working conditions” into consideration, so why shouldn’t we have that same thought for fellow human beings?


  6. I found your paragraph about the idea of a rating system to be very interesting. Although I agree it is unrealistic, I found it intriguing to think about. I feel like the way people purchased things would drastically change and certain companies would not be doing as well as they are today. I also agree with the fact that it would make companies more likely to become socially responsible in the way they do their business. Apple has kept too many secrets from society over the years and it is about time they let some things become known to the public.


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