un/true Claims and un/real Promises


After watching Bucknell’s rendition of the play, I continue to be frustrated with the whole situation. In the play, Steve Jobs is interviewed on the poor working conditions of Chinese workers at Foxconn; while I commend Jobs for being confident, his claim that “we’re all over this” is very un/real and un/true. I looked for other interviews concerning Apple’s take on ethics and Foxconn, and found the two videos below. The first video is an interview of a woman who worked at Foxconn for five years, and the other video is an interview of Tim Cook at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business that concerns ethics.

I think that more than anything, these videos demonstrate the consistency of un/realness and un/truth along the chain of Apple products. Steve Jobs claimed that the working conditions were being taken care of, yet the woman in the first video was working at Foxconn even after Jobs passed away and speaks of the working hazards she endured and witnessed. When she asked her supervisor for improved conditions, she was told that they were being taken care of. Years before, Jobs said that they were being taken care of. The picture I included in this post comes from a visit Tim Cook took to the Foxconn factory, and all of the pictures from his trip feature big smiles and no signs of hazard. However, photographs can be carefully staged. In the second video, Cook talks about where his ethical moral compass comes from. While I want to believe him (because I like to believe that people are inherently good), I can’t help but chuckle and nod to one of the comments on the video that says: “I’m a Mac and iPhone user, but are y kidding me, ethical compass? The recent news on Apple’s supply chain involved with serious environmental and social responsibility problems were a huge disappointment for me as a Sustainability MBA professor that travels around Brazil lecturing. Their case study is used by me at the exams applied to my students! Double standards, it seems…” When will we be correct in believing that these conditions have improved?

We cannot pinpoint a spot in the supply chain that is “responsible” for unethical working conditions. Thinking about this reminded me of the bystander intervention we learn in the Speak Up program. There are so many points in the supply chain where a difference can be made. Apple could have made an effort to investigate suppliers before hiring them, and avoid this altogether. After that mistake, Apple could have halted business with Foxconn when the claims of unfair working conditions started to emerge, and could have given a clear ultimatum such as “improve working conditions and then we will resume business”. I can continue to think of places where this issue can be improved, but I will end with the consumer. As an iPhone owner, I realize and acknowledge that this may come off as contradictory, but at the very last resort of the chain, consumers could make a point not to purchase Apple products until it is confirmed that the working conditions have improved. I like to think that everyone can make a difference, and in this case, even the average Joe Consumer could make a conscious decision to only support socially responsible companies.

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8 responses to “un/true Claims and un/real Promises

  1. Is it actually plausible to support only social responsible companies? At the peak of my frustration with these issues during a social justice course, I tried this and determined that it’s not possible, especially when you’re not willing to spend top dollar on everything. I urge you to really think through each decision you make and every product that you interact with in a day. How would you convert to something more sustainable?

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    • I agree–it is not plausible to only support socially responsible companies. Especially in a society that is becoming increasingly materialistic, we find ourselves hard pressed to resist the barrage of “cool” products on the market. Furthermore, in your comment you allude to the fact that we interact with many different products, and therefore many different companies, every day. Are we victims of large corporations’ domination on particular markets or do we really have choice when it comes to consumption?

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      • “Corporate social responsibility” is a blanket term used by many modern corporations, but how do we know if they are truly operating ethically and sustainably? I believe we do have a choice when it comes to consumption. It is up to us, the consumers, to determine if our personal values align with the organizational values of our favorite brands as well as if that alignment is important enough to encourage or deter us from supporting them.

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  2. Do you think it is plausible to ask companies like Apple to give ultimatums and stop manufacturing? If they were to stop production of iPhones, for example, this would cause a huge problem in the supply chain, they would loose a large amount of income, consumers would get frustrated and maybe switch to a different brand. While some customers might think this was a good thing to do, I would say must would be more frustrated with Apple that there were no iPhones available to purchase.

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  3. One benefit of technology is the transparency it provides. In today’s world, we have access to information about where most of the products we use in everyday life have come from, whether we choose to acknowledge this or not. You suggested that consumers should attempt to only purchase products from socially responsible companies. As difficult as that seems, there are more and more organizations that have stepped up in trying to help consumers identify companies that are socially responsible (check out http://www.bcorporation.net/). Perhaps these organizations can help push society towards more socially conscious consumption, putting pressure on companies, like Apple, who fall short.

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  4. Pingback: Blog Council – Technology and Action | Stakeholders:Uncensored·

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