New damning report into Apple factories: should consumers and business customers care? Should mobile marketers?

China Labor Watch (CLW), a US-based charity, has released a highly critical report, with video footage (see below), into conditions in Pegatron Group’s factories that produce Apple products, including the upcoming cheap iPhone. As suggested in the title: Apple’s unkept promises: Cheap iPhones come at high costs to Chinese workers, the report focuses on findings from its undercover investigation that appear to counter Apple’s commitments to supply-chain labor rights made after the last scandal into working conditions at Apple device manufacturer Foxconn in 2010. Despite Apple’s claims that it now has tighter control over its outsourced supply chain, CLW alleges that “labor conditions at Pegatron factories are even worse than those at Foxconn factories”.

Apple is not the only electronics manufacturer outsourcing to China to come under CLW’s spotlight. For example, a 2012 CLW investigation was highly critical of Samsung, the world’s leading mobile device and smartphone manufacturer.

Reading the report of the Apple investigation, the media coverage, thereof, and Apple’s response; four sequential questions occur:

  1. Do manufacturers care about the conditions of the workers who build their highly profitable devices? Should they?
  2. Do consumers care about the conditions of the workers who build the devices they love? Should they?
  3. Do businesses care about the conditions of the workers who build the devices they use? Should they?
  4. Do marketers care about the conditions of the workers who build the devices that they are investing in? Should they?

This is the stuff that theses are made of, however, suffice to say, that each of these groups should ask themselves the following questions: a) Do we care? b) Should we care? c) Do our customers (and other stakeholders) care if we care?

In an era where businesses are starting to take corporate social responsibility (CSR) more seriously, corporate customers must ask if standardizing on a manufacturer tainted by accusations of poor labor practices in the supply chain, might compromise their ethical sourcing policy (if they have one) or other stated CSR commitments. For example, can a school invest in computers, where there is a chance, however remote, that it might have been built by a young person working in intolerable conditions?

Similar questions should also be asked by companies before they embark on developing mobile applications specifically for these devices or launch advertising campaigns geared towards these devices. For example should a charity be investing in developing/promoting an application for the very devices that another charity is criticizing for alleged bad supply chain practices?

CLW produced the following video to accompany the report into the Pegatron factories in China that manufacture products for Apple.

The full CLW report: Apple’s unkept promises: Cheap iPhones come at high costs to Chinese workers.

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