The podcast from “This American Life” highlights several issues facing Apple and other tech companies in regards to the working conditions in China. While listening, I remembered thinking at one point that the working conditions fit with what I had previously imagined the conditions to be like, but why has this never effected my decisions in buying Apple products? Near the end of the podcast, the discussion turns to whether or not sweatshops are good or bad. Most economists argue that sweatshops have helped countries fight poverty, so as consumers, we should not stop buying these products purely on a moral standard. However, this debate is not what caught my interest. What I found most interesting was that the sweatshops would deceive the auditors of their actual working conditions.
As mentioned in the podcast, Apple and other tech companies have taken action to make working conditions in the Chinese factories better. In 2010, Apple’s own auditors went into 127 of their suppliers’ factories and found 91 underage workers. In response to this, Apple helped install systems to verify age, they educated suppliers on recruiting practices, and they made their suppliers return the underage workers to school and pay for the kids education. Apple also stopped doing business with one of their suppliers, because the company did nothing to address their working condition problems. While Apple continues to have problems with transparency of information, they are at least attempting to improve the working conditions of their suppliers. The real problem is that as Apple and other tech companies try to make these improvements, the numbers of suicides and other problems with the working conditions don’t seem to be changing.
In my opinion, one of the major problems is the suppliers. The tech companies can create new regulations and requirements in attempt to improve the working conditions, but nothing will change if the suppliers do not adhere to or enforce these changes. As it was mentioned in the podcast, the sweatshops would try to deceive the auditors by making the working conditions appear better than their actual conditions, which the workers describe as working under a military style management. Apple’s problems with secrecy and transparency do not help in holding these suppliers responsible for the conditions of their factories, but the underlying problem is the suppliers’ resistance to changing their behavior.