Do consumers have a responsibility to know where products come from even if it’s something really cool like an iPhone 5?

Image AP

What is our moral obligation if we are buying a product that is made half way around the globe by employees so mistreated that their bosses have to string up nets around factory windows so that workers will stop jumping in an attempt to commit suicide?

According to CNET, the watchdog group SumOfUs will deliver their own petition, as well as one created by, to Apple stores worldwide. Cities to receive petitions include New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, London, Sydney, and Bangalore.

Over 250,000 combined signatures have been collected to pressure Apple into releasing the first ethical iPhone.

The petitions were created in response to an expose by the New York Times and an episode of This American Life – both painted a dark picture of suffering factory workers in China. Days after the Times article was published, Cook sent an email to employees stating the company cares about all workers.

“We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain,” Cook said in the email. “Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us.”

Activists petition Apple for ethical iPhone 5

The opposition points out that if Apple put enough pressure on the manufacturers, factories would have no choice but to improve work conditions. A former Apple executive told the Times anonymously, “Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”

Foxconn manufactures over 50 percent of the world’s electronic devices for companies like Microsoft, Samsung and Apple. Conditions are so bad that a spike of suicides plagued the company in 2011. Because suicides are so common, the company placed nets around buildings to prevent people from jumping.

“Can Apple do this? Absolutely.” SumOfUs said in their petition. “Apple is the richest company in the world.”

–CBS News

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. Wouldn’t the most logical solution, and the most politically correct one to be we suggest they bring the jobs to the US? Shouldn’t they be here anyway.? I am very much a believer in human rights, and that includes employment rights. Should we be concerned about fixing our ills at least as much as we are fixing China’s ? There are unemployed people here who have committed suicide because they gave their life to a job that pulled away (usually based on profits) . Where are their nets?

    I disagree. This is all about politics, but more about ours than China’s. An Apple factory is not going to suddenly convert China to Democracy, any more than our meddling in world events any where else has. It is politics and greed. Plain and simple. China is going to do what it does the way it does it.

    • Foxconn workers make 51 cents on the hour, and compare that – last year Tim Cook made 378 MILLION dollars. Cheap labour and huge profit margins are the reasons companies move manufacturing off shore. Apple’s profit margin on the iPhone in 2009 was 64%.

      I didn’t say anything about converting China to Democracy…haha…no iPhone is going to do that. But the U.S. is now in economic competition with China. I don’t think American companies are intentionally helping China’s enonomy fare better…good grief – workers are making 51 cents an hour; but Americans want to have their cake and eat it too.

      All the manufacturing in China is having huge environmental impact on the country; which American companies are all too happy to keep off American soil. So they do have their cake and eat it too.
      “With a rapidly growing economy, and as the world’s most populous nation, China faces great stresses on its resources and environment. ”
      “Workers in China assemble the iPhone, but because their wages are low the assembly cost per phone (labeled manufacturing costs in the table below) is quite small, only $6.50 a phone. The total production cost per phone is $178.96.”

      “Apple is not alone in embracing China as its production base. China is now the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods. And, as the chart below shows, the share of Chinese exports that are labled high technology is growing. This trend has encouraged many analysts to claim that the U.S. is now locked in fierce economic competition with China.”

      • If iPhones assembly got moved to the United States, Tim Cook would need to take a huge salary cut in order to pay American workers their fare due…which then would drive up the cost of the iPhone…maybe would cost $1000.00 per phone. In 2009, it costs under $200 for production of each iPhone and Chinese labour cost $6.50/phone

  2. wellokaythen says:

    Be prepared for the Chinese government to protest. It will say that you Westerners are interfering in the sovereignty of China and are trying to impose your Eurocentric definition of human rights. It will say that China has its own great history of human rights and its workers are making great progress and this criticism is just outsider propaganda. It will then attempt to ban mention of this on the internet in China, possibly ban This American Life, and block the someofus website in the interest of national security.

    And then, perhaps China would begin to boycott the U.S. entirely and stop loaning us so much money?

    • MichelleG says:

      this doesn’t have much to do with politics…more to do with employment rights. It’s in the best interest of China and it’s workers to fix these labour problems. They count on these jobs/contracts from foreign investors…this is how they are prospering and competing globally.

      Chances are electronics and most products, other than food, are made in China or India.
      “Apple CEO Tim Cook received $378 million in compensation last year, which makes him the highest-paid CEO and puts his annual income at a level that hot startups can only envy.”
      On the 10th of each month, Foxconn workers have their only good day. That’s because they get the Chinese equivalent of $130. That’s $130 for about 240 hours of work. The math is disturbing. These workers make about 51 cents an hour.

      • Michelle, your point is confusing.

        First off, you admitted that their current strategy has led to prosperity and the ability to compete globally, but then you used that to “back up” why they should change their strategy? If it isn’t broken, why fix it?

        Second, the salary comparison doesn’t really make sense. Literally anyone can do unskilled labor. That’s the definition of unskilled. Workers in China performing unskilled labor are going to be low paid because they are doing a job anyone is capable of doing. Why should someone get paid more if someone else is willing and able to do the same job for less? In the case of China, it is not just someONE else willing and able, but rather some hundreds of millions willing and able.

        Third, the salary comparison also doesn’t make sense from the other end. Do you honestly believe just anyone is capable of running a company like Apple? Apple has been successful over and over again, and has fostered innovation. The pool of people able to run a business at that level is very small. Why shouldn’t he make that salary if he is one of only a very few able to do that job?

        • FIRST: I’m not sure what you are confused about. “Back up”? Perhaps this should explain…yes, China counts on jobs/contracts from foreign investors and this is helping to industrialized their economy and compete; but the situation here with Apple stands out (UNIQUE), because of the very HIGH demand for Apple products – the problem is HIGH demand and LOW supply – so in order to meet this global demand, Chinese workers are being overworked to the point of suicide – 70 hours a week, with some standing on their feet all day. They don’t even get to go ‘home’, they live in dorms close to these factories…like caged chickens – produce, produce, produce!!! Although the high demand is a sign of a successful company/product, this does not sit well for Apple’s image (consumers hate ‘sweat shops’ and this is similar) nor is this good business ethics for either side.

          The consumers’ petition against Apple for an ethical iPhone is a very good thing – and the numbers of consumers who have signed, show that they CARE and they know that when workers are committing suicides that this is a tell-tell sign something is very WRONG. Apple needs to heed consumers’ concerns – they are the ones making Apple successful.

          Suicides related to work would not be acceptable in North America, therefore the same work standards and ethics in America also need to be observed and applied in factories in China, the ones contracted to manufacture American products like the iPhone.

          SECOND: “Why should someone get paid more if someone else is willing and able to do the same job for less? In the case of China, it is not just someONE else willing and able, but rather some hundreds of millions willing and able.” This is called EXPLOITATION. Not only are foreign companies exploiting the labour force in China, we see this in North America as well – by the 1 percent controlling the economy…while thousands are out of work, and fighting for low-wage jobs…these conditions have been produced because of greedy attitudes at the top.

          THIRD: CEOs of course are the strategic leaders of a company and should be paid the most (so no disagreement there), but not $378, 000,000 a year. These types of salaries are achieved through exploitation and made possible by exporting labour off-shore to workers in China or India who make pennies per hour…while we have an unemployment crisis in North America…but these make perfect conditions for the Defense Dept. to exploit this sector of society and draft them into the military — where job openings are always available. All of this seems perfectly legal, because the 1 percent make the rules.

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