iPod not so white? Apple and manufacturing ethics discussed

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The controversy over working conditions at FoxConn, a Taiwanese company who assembles and supplies the iPod for Apple has escalated, as two Chinese journalists have had their assets frozen by a court at the company’s request.

They claim that the journalists exaggerated claims of bad working conditions in their assembly plant. An Apple investigation (yeah, I know, hardly impartial) had found that there was no evidence of forced labour but that limits on work hours were exceeded.

Workers allegedly told the reporters that they had to stand for hours on end, and were not allowed to talk.

Other large tech companies using FoxConn’s services include Dell, Sony and Intel.

Now, we’re not professing to be an ethical consumer blog, but it does raise the interesting question of if and and how companies and consumers should react to working conditions imposed on ‘low level’ component assembly companies.

Low level in the sense that they may not (usually) be given much attention, but are crucial to the success of consumer electronics companies, and ultimately a large chunk of the technology sector.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s an easy issue. It’s not as simple as saying ‘pay them more’ or ‘let them work less hours’. There’s a whole host of cultural differences and economic considerations to take into account. But should the large tech companies (Sony, Apple, Intel, Dell, and so on) take more of a concern in the welfare of everyone in their supply chain, even if it means that things ultimately cost more? Will Western businesses and consumers be prepared to shoulder the extra cost in order to sustain fairer working conditions?

What do you think?

Andy Merrett