Culture At Large

Apple, Technology, Working Conditions and Social Justice

Jerod Clark

Tomorrow will be a big day for Apple.  The much sought after iPhone 4 will be available for pre-order.  Millions of people are expected to buy the phone by the end of the year, but many may not stop to think about the human cost that goes into making the product.

There’s beenplenty of news reports in the past month about the Chinese company Foxconn.  Their workers receive low pay and are in assembly lines where they work extremely long hours.  This year, there have been more than a dozen employees attempt to commit suicide because of the depressing conditions.  (That number is below average suicide rates in the U.S.  considering Foxconn employs hundreds of thousands of people.)

As a response to the criticism of working conditions, Foxconn has increased pay 66% (meaning workers will get around $300 US a month).  Plus Apple has stepped in to give some profit sharing to workers as a bonus as well.

But Foxconn is much bigger than the iPhone itself.  If I look at the technology my wife and I own or use at work, much of it has been touched by Foxconn.  Here’s a list: 2 iPhones, an Amazon Kindle, my Dell laptop at work, an HP laptop at home, an iPad and a Nintendo Wii.  Even if you don’t own any of these, you probably own something Foxconn manufactures.  Beyond the list above, they work with Sony, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Motorola and Nokia.

I write all of this to ask, what’s the appropriate Christian response?  It’s easy to say, “Don’t buy from these companies.”  But the reality is we do.  Go to any Christian conference and you’ll see iPhone’s and iPad’s everywhere.  At work, you don’t really have a choice about what computer they give you.  And are you really going to give up your iPod or cell phone.  Chances are if they’re not made by Foxconn, they’re probably made by another company with similar working conditions.

It's equally as easy to turn the other way and say that lifestyles are different in China than in the U.S.  Or say that factory work is tough or depressing anywhere in the world.

I believe in social justice, not because it’s a big church buzz word right now, but because every human should be treated well.  I know in this case the right answer is not support any of these companies until working conditions improve.  But I know the truth is I’ll get the next iPhone or some other gadget Foxconn makes.  In some ways that makes me a little disappointed in myself.

I clearly don’t have a great answer for reconciling all of this.  How about you?  How do you respond?

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Technology, News & Politics, North America