Should consumers boycott Apple products?

February 1, 2012

The New York Times, rather surprisingly, published an interesting article recently on the inhumane and unsafe conditions in which Chinese workers are suffering while making products for high-profile, high-tech Western companies like Apple. The conditions there are so bleak that when workers there aren’t being killed by explosions or toxic chemicals they are killing themselves. And those who manage to survive don’t fare much better, working overtime, sleeping in crowded dorms, living effectively in conditions of slavery. The NYT article, and others like it,  have received a lot of attention and caused a bit of an image problem for Apple–surprising because this is not something the NYT tends to do to wealthy companies with millions of dollars to spend on advertising.

In any case, one can expect a lot of PR in the coming months and years, stressing the importance of CSR, in order to deal with this image problem. Early efforts in this direction have been heavy-handed and absurd. For instance, according to this article, workers at plants making iPads are now being forced to sign contracts promising that they will not commit suicide. This is clearly not very good from a PR point of view. The only way to enforce that sort of contract would be to punish the family or relatives of those workers who violate the terms of the contract, which is apparently what is happening.  

It is worth pointing out that punishing the relatives of a person who tries to escape his conditions of slavery and misery is exactly what North Korea does. So it seems that the drive to maximize profits through the minimization of production costs has brought capitalism, not just to China, and the rest of the third world, but to a position that is indistinguishable from communist dictatorship.  Indeed, as the Al Jazeera video below suggests, the Chinese are well on the way of bringing capitalism to its logic conclusion, which is a vast and growing penal colony in which prisoners are forced to provide free labor to manufacture plastic consumer goods for a nation of people on the other side of the planet who are too busy watching Homer Simpson to understand or care about what is going on.    

In response to the NYT article, this opinion piece in the LA Times raises the question of whether consumers should boycott Apple products. But as the article correctly points out, the problem is much larger than Apple; China is now the factory for most of the world’s electronics and cheap consumer goods. The article ends with the provocative suggestion that the blame ultimately lies with the affluent consumers who buy these products. I’m not sure that’s right, but I am sure that the solution to the problem, if there is one, lies with the affluent consumers. There is clearly no other force to stop this economic system from destroying the environment and dividing the human population into a small group of mindless consumers and a larger underclass of imprisoned slaves. 


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One Response to Should consumers boycott Apple products?

  1. wk
    February 3, 2012 at 3:00 am

    Interesting article from Mark LeVine that relates to this article and connects it to the arab spring:

    Most notable quote:

    If the information I’ve found can be made more readily available, and consumers of computers and other hi-tech devices begin show the kind of concern for the welfare of workers at Apple plants as the consumers of sneakers and sports clothing have shown about the workers who make Nike or Champion, the technologies that have enabled the Arab spring and the global revolution against neoliberalism more broadly might soon be produced a bit more fairly and in a manner that not only strengthens the rights of workers in China, but allows the newly emerging democracies in countries like Egypt and Tunisia to compete for hi-tech manufacturing jobs in a slightly more even playing field.

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