iJustice: What to Do About Tech Company Problems and Profits
April 4, 2012 Leave a comment
When This American Life retracted its recent episode concerning poor working conditions in factories making Chinese products, I was worried that this would mean a larger dismissal of concerns when it comes to tech companies, including Apple, using cheap and exploited labor.
The issue may remain in the news, though, given the even more recent audit of the Foxconn factory which has helped Apple generate such awesome profit margin.
Assessors found cases of employees working longer hours and more days in a row than allowed by FLA standards and Chinese law. They uncovered inconsistent health and safety policies and instances of unfair pay for overtime work.
It’s hard for me not to connect this news to the other big splash that Apple made of late — its nearly one hundred billion dollar pile o’ cash.
When Apple was confronted with the problem of what to do with excess billions, it’s a wonder to me that we live in a world where no one suggested giving some of it to the people actually making the products. No, I’m not talking about Communism. Communism as it’s currently practiced by Communist China means exploiting workers for the sake of large international companies. I’m talking about decency, equity, and proper compensation — and I’m tired of being told that they are somehow incompatible with our current way of life.
Professor of Biblical Interpretation Obery Hendricks is tired of this as well, and over the weekend he spoke with Melissa Harris-Perry and pointed out the hypocrisy of the right wing applauding themselves for being religious, while ignoring the central message of justice in Biblical teaching.
HENDRICKS: I think that one of the problems is that the question’s not asked, “What is the just thing to do?”, not just “What is the profitable thing?”
I’m well aware that many of us, including myself, are complicit when it comes to supporting companies such as Apple and their exploitation of workers and the material wealth of the world. The co-creator of The Daily Show, Lizz Winstead, appeared alongside Hendricks and spoke to the difficulty of avoiding tech products as opposed to, say, blood diamonds, while Harris-Perry herself noted how movements such as Occupy protest exploitation even as they rely on the technology produced by factories such as Foxconn in order to organize and spread their message.
Our economy does not make it easy to treat workers ethically, but this does not mean we should not push for higher wages and safer working conditions. Journalist John Nichols argues that the issue is not Apple in particular, but the priorities which we set as a country that does not support manufacturing within its own borders.
Finally, Law Professor Cynthia Estlund had what was perhaps the most inspiring solution for Apple.
ESTLUND: Be in the labor standards world what you are in the world of creating the most spectacular electronics.