The New York Times has a very lengthy and disturbing report tonight on Apple’s much-vaunted supply chain and the human costs that go into the manufacture of their iconic product lines.
It’s worth reading. If the Times got the story right, it paints a picture of an Apple that is well aware of the human costs they’re inflicting to produce their products, but rather than doing anything about it, continues to squeeze every penny it can out of its suppliers.
In January 2010, workers at a Chinese factory owned by Wintek, an Apple manufacturing partner, went on strike over a variety of issues, including widespread rumors that workers were being exposed to toxins. Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis.
Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.
Apple commented on the Wintek injuries a year later.
The laptop I’m writing this on is a Macbook Pro that will be three years old this summer. When my AppleCare contract runs out I’ll likely replace it. Whether I’ll replace it with a new Apple computer is still an open question.
I’m not a fool. I am well aware that my phone, and my cameras, and a huge swath of the rest of the products in my home and closet are also made in China, and not all in pristine conditions. Why single out Apple?
Apple is getting the lion’s share of the criticism in part because of their brand image – a widely admired company shouldn’t have such a dark underside, right? And for my part, I find it particularly disconcerting because Apple sits on a huge stack of cash and brings in tens of billions of profits each quarter. They could easily give suppliers more favorable margins that would allow them to cut fewer corners, and still rake in huge profits.
When you’re in a position of such great power, a truly great company would use that power to not just rake in huge profits, but to do some good as well. Apple could earn every plaudit 10 times over if they not only led the way in product design, but also in how they treat their supply chain.
Wouldn’t that be even more amazing?