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Apple Inc. is the biggest technology company in the world. Its bestselling products, the iPhone, iPad and iPod, are icons of modern design. Sales run into the tens and hundreds of millions each year.
So, of course, do profits. Last week, Apple announced that its net revenues had hit record-breaking heights in the final quarter of 2011, doubling to more than $13 billion. If Apple were a country, its overall income would put it in the top 60 economies in the world, about the same size as Bangladesh or Vietnam.
But now, a new controversy is threatening to sour the mood. An investigation by journalists at the New York Times has found that the sleek black bodies of Apple’s much loved gadgets conceal a hidden cost – a cost not counted in dollars, but in health, happiness and human lives.
This cost is being paid not by Apple employees in the company’s gleaming California HQ, but by young people working for less well known firms in China, on the other side of the world. It is these firms that actually put together the millions of iPods, iPads and iPhones sold each year.
For salaries of around $17 per day, hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers toil through 12-hour shifts at high tech production lines. Legs swell from hours of standing, so much that by the end of the day some people can hardly walk. Many work six or seven days a week, or do double shifts – snatching moments of sleep in overcrowded dormitories on the factory grounds.
Complaints are not encouraged. ‘Work hard on the job today,’ warn signs on the walls, ‘or work hard finding a new job tomorrow.’
And, most damagingly for Apple’s reputation, safety standards appear to be lax. In December, an explosion in one factory injured 59 workers. Six months before, a young man had been killed in a similar incident. Two years ago, workers at another factory were forced to use a toxic chemical to clean iPhone screens. 137 people were poisoned.
Apple of discord
As the news spreads, a growing number of commentators are calling for a boycott of Apple products until working conditions at these factories are dramatically improved. Many even say the company must bring its manufacturing back to the US, where workers will be paid better wages, work fewer hours and be covered by health and safety law.
Apple bosses – and their defenders – insist things are not so simple. Yes, they admit, conditions in Chinese factories are hard. And in fact, Apple works hard to improve them – carrying out hundreds of inspections each year. Most importantly, although these jobs sound tough, for many Chinese people they are the only route out of poverty and into the ranks of the middle class. Most would much rather have these jobs than no job at all.
1. Should people really boycott Apple?
2. Do consumers really have a responsibility to think about who made the things they buy?
1. Do some further research onto conditions in factories in China. Do you think they are acceptable? Present your findings to your class.
2. Some people say this Apple scandal is a case of globalisation gone bad. In a short article, explain what globalisation means, and whether it is a good or bad thing.
Details on Apple’s record-breaking profits.
One of two brilliant pieces of reporting from the New York Times. This article explains why iPhones are made in China...
...and this goes in-depth on working conditions in Chinese factories.
A savage attack on Apple, from the Daily Beast.
The Observer thinks this is globalisation gone wrong.
An advert for the iPad. A new version of this smash-hit gadget will come out in March.
Q: Do I need to start feeling guilty about wanting an iPad?
A: That question is hotly debated. It’s certainly worth thinking about at least – just as it’s worth thinking about the impact of anything you buy.
A: Well – companies almost always chase maximum profits. That means the best way to change the way companies behave is to threaten to stop buying their products. It gives consumers a lot of power to change the world. With great power, of course, comes great responsibility.
Q: Isn’t that a line from Spiderman?
A: Doesn’t mean it isn’t true!
Apple Inc. – Apple was founded in 1976 by Steve Wozniak and his friend Steve Jobs, who died last year. It originally made desktop computers, but had an explosion of growth after it released the iPod music player in 2001. Apple products are famous for their quality and attention to detail.
Overall income – Apple took over $108 billion in revenue (not the same as profit) in 2011. By contrast, the entire economy of Liberia, a country in West Africa, was worth less than $1 billion.
Explosion – In both cases, the explosions were caused by aluminium dust from iPad casings which were being polished ready for assembly. Dust clouds can be surprisingly explosive – even ordinary table flour burns with surprising force if it is floating in the air.
Boycott – A boycott is an arrangement where people refuse to deal or trade with a person, company or nation. The idea is named after a 19th Century Irish official, Captain Charles C. Boycott, who was shunned after refusing to lower rents on his land.
‘Products manufactured abroad should be banned.’
What do you think?
Tuesday, 07 February 2012
ben and mbuso from Westville Boys' High School thinks:
Friday, 10 February 2012
Kei Palahniuk from Crawford School thinks:
Monday, 21 May 2012
Peter Seron from Bedford School thinks:
Business and Economics, Design and Technology, Geography