The Other Side of Apple: iPhone Consumers

By Rhona Murray

Apple ranks as a middle tier company in terms of its progress towards eradicating conflict minerals from the supply chain of Apple products. With a brand value of $29.5 billion, why is this still not a priority? And what do Apple consumers think of this? Or are they also complicit on this front? We interviewed several iPhone consumers and below are a sample of our results.
(Due to background noise the interview scripts have been provided for reference)

 

LOCATION: Central/Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
OBJECTIVE:
To assess the level of awareness and concern among iPhone consumers about the issue of conflict minerals.

INTERVIEW ONE:

Rhona: We’re just looking into researching the Apple iPhone and I just wondered if you own an iPhone?
Woman: Yes.
Rhona: We’re looking into the conflict minerals that are used to make them and we wondered if you knew that there were conflict minerals in the iPhone before you bought it and how that might have affected your purchase?
Woman: I can say that the iPhone is quite convenient. If you play around, use facebook or if you want to take pictures because you don’t need your camera anymore. Because the quality is ok. And I never play games, so I have no idea about that part.
Rhona: But would you have bought it if you knew the components in it were conflict minerals?
Woman: Uh, I would have still bought it. Yes because I am very honest and people in Hong Kong wouldn’t care too much about it. We’re not selfish but I think, in our culture, we need convenience.  We need fast. That’s what we want.
Rhona: Would you be interested in petitioning Apple to improve their ethical conduct?
Woman: Of course.  Of course, if they can use better material or something which would help the environment, that would be much better. But if you just ask me about it, I got no idea about the material, l don’t anything about it. Yes because as long as we buy the case, the case is not environment protecting.
Rhona: Thank you very much for your time.

INTERVIEW TWO:

Rhona: Do you have an iPhone?
Woman1: Um, she has one.
Rhona: We’re just looking into the ethical issues surrounding it and we wondered if when you purchased it you knew about the possibility of conflict minerals within it?
Woman2: Nope.
 Rhona: So do you think Apple has a duty to tell you about it?
Woman2: I don’t know what it is.
Rhona: Basically the minerals,
Woman1: Is this going to be on TV?!
Rhona: Not if you don’t want it to be. Basically, the minerals that are used to make the iPhone are usually sourced from areas in continents like Africa, which funds guerrilla warfare. This has been brought to Apple’s attention and they haven’t been able to resolve it. Would this have affected you buying the iPhone if you’d known about it?
Women1: Well, you’re very eco-ey…
Woman2: Probably. But I think there’s something in everything. The store we’re in front of right now has probably sourced from places where there’s been war, and I mean, I think, you can’t really buy anything without, without some sort of issue. I would rather know, but I don’t think they’re going to tell me.
Rhona: Thank you for your time.

INTERVIEW THREE:

Stephen conducted this interview in Mandarin and summarised the woman’s response.
Stephen: She said she’s not familiar with these kinds of things and she said Apple should provide more information for the consumers who use the iPhones themselves.

INTERVIEW FOUR:
(Switching from Mandarin)

Stephen:  These kinds of minerals are found in conflicts in the Congo because of the interest in the value of them. What do you think about this kind of issue?
Man:
Of what? Conflict Minerals?
Rhona:
The minerals used to make iPhones are sourced from certain countries…
Man:
I have no idea where it’s sourced from (Shrugs) I can’t comment on that.
Rhona:
Would it affect you buying an iPhone if you knew that it was sourced unethically?
Man: (Shrugs again)
To me it’s all plastic and glass, so these are common materials that you get all over the place so I don’t see why it’s different from any other phone.
Stephen:
There are some minerals that can only be found in the Congo and these kinds of minerals are funding conflicts.
Man: (Shrugs again)
Um, I really have no comment on that. I said, to me a phone is phone. It’s all made of plastics and glass. And I don’t see why they choose specific countries like Congo to use plastic and glass when it can be sourced from all over the place, like China. Sorry I have no comment on that.

FINDINGS: Despite the limited sample supply, five observations can be made from the sample interviewed due to the high number of correlated answers.

  1. The terminology of conflict minerals does not appear to be widely understood and many do not appear to be familiar with the issue.
  2. There is a low-level of consumer awareness that the components within the iPhone have a high probability of being traced as conflict minerals.
  3. There is limited confidence in Apple, as a company, to offer transparent consumer information.
  4. There is a belief that conflict minerals within any electronics are unavoidable, so consumers would not necessarily avoid buying Apple products in the future.
  • Subsequent to these interviews, enquiries into several Apple retailers found that there was no information available to consumers on this issue or on Apple’s progress in dealing with this issue.
  • This is surprising as Apple could increase its competitive advantage by capitalising on its middle tier ranking, by the NGO Enough, in relation to other electronic companies.
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