In May of 2011, an explosion in one of Apple’s factories in Chengdu, China outraged the international community as Apple was antagonistically portrayed as an international company that not only neglected to maintain basic safety standards in its factories, but ignored Chinese groups that warned the company to improve its standards and working conditions.
In the last ten years, we have watched Apple rise as a globally renowned company and international brand. Apple products’ sleek look, user-friendly features and universal tech support all seem to be the highlighted attractions that persuade many consumers to buy from Apple. Like any other lucrative enterprise, the company’s ability to perfect, mass-produce and globalize its products has largely been due to global manufacturing.
Apple’s contract with Foxconn, a Taiwanese multi-national electronics manufacturing company, has enabled Apple to bring its manufacturing to China and is subsequently seen as a greater antagonist in global manufacturing and human rights. Though Foxconn currently has 13 factories in China and is the largest private-sector employer, the company has remained infamous for its poor working conditions, the Foxconn suicides of 2010 and discrimination against mainlander Chinese workers. While Apple does have a code of conduct and while it had inspected and audited violations in the factories, it seems that little was done to sufficiently improve conditions.
Soon after the explosion, several articles were printed, pressuring Apple to end its contract with Foxconn—Apple customers could have their products and consume them with a sound conscience. When the company made no sign of terminating their contract or pressuring Foxconn to change the way in which they managed their workers though, what did informed consumers do?
It should no longer be a shock when we hear where our iPads, Macbooks, iPhones and iPods really came from. Admittedly, I had an iPhone before I learned about the Foxconn and Apple incident. I have refrained from buying other Apple products since then. However, I find it odd that while other consumers were willing to pressure Apple to terminate its contract, so many are still unwilling to stop buying Apple products altogether when Apple remained silent in the wake of the explosion.
The most common response that many people seem to voice is that they doubt that an individual act can really speak to the Apple Empire and a huge multi-national corporation. Others are not so modest in admitting that they simply like their Apple products and how they increase consumer productivity and entertainment. And finally, there are those who simply argue that no one really knows where all of our products come from anyway—we can’t realistically always care.
I suppose having these justifications is the privilege of being a beneficiary of globalization. However, I would argue that promotion of globalization requires a more active global citizen, especially from those who have the privilege of choosing what they consume.