New product has come, but on where should the spotlight be?


The health condition of Steve Jobs concerns us very much, to the extent that even the news of iPad2 is framed as part of those relevant rumors. Understandably, Jobs (and his cancer) may have significant implications on the development of Apple, and accordingly its users. Yet, facing the great success of the corporation, there is something we should not forget. Recently, a book about the series of suicide incidents in Foxconn – one of the Apple’s major suppliers in China – has been published (1), reminding us the existence of factory workers and various labour issues behind the global production chain of Apple.

Exploitation of labourer is by no means a new issue, but it keeps happening, and its products may well be in our hand. As a consumer, some suggests that we have a moral duty to whether a product comes with any unjust or unfair production process. No matter we agree with this or not, the labour issues arisen with the suicides in Foxconn are just across the border, and this really provides a good stepping stone for us to explore more on the dark side of industrialization and globalization.

A unique issue concerning Foxconn’s production line is their hiring student interns. Post-secondary students are hired as student interns but treated just like an ordinary worker. With the isolated working environment, students’ psychological development can be hampered. This reveals an aspect of exploitation that it is more than a matter of justice or fairness; it may rather be a social problem affecting our next generation and accordingly the long term development of our society.

Effects of Foxconn’s mode of operation on its workers are an issue, but we should notice that Foxconn is not the only supplier of Apple. A report published recently by Chinese NGOs mentioned that poisonous chemicals which are damaging to workers’ health may have been used by some China’s suppliers during the manufacturing process (2). The said reason is that they want to satisfy the quality requirement set by Apple. What is the implication? Commitment to high quality product may be at the expense of bottom level workers when the production is going through the global chain.

The negative side of globalization exists, and when we are enjoying the benefit of it in terms of having a product in our hand, the same piece of good may well be the output of unjust production process. Look at your iPhone, do you know through what a manufacturing process is it produced? Apple’s products may be really great, but the relevant information involved in making an informed consumption choice is by no means limited to the quality of the product itself.

BY Christopher Ho

Note

(1)   The Serial Jumps behind Foxconn’s Success (《富士康輝煌背後的連環跳》), Hong Kong: Commercial Press (2011)

(2)   Another aspect of Apple (《蘋果的另一面》), China: Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (2011),http://www.ipe.org.cn/Upload/file/%E8%8B%B9%E6%9E%9C%E7%9A%84%E5%8F%A6%E4%B8%80%E9%9D%A2_Final-20110119-2.pdf

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