The New York Times has launched an investigation into the factories that churn out our beloved Apple products, and it's not pretty. Suppliers used to manufacture new models of iPads and iPhones have come under scrutiny for underage labor, unsafe exposure to hazardous chemicals, brutal hours, and dangerous conditions that in some cases have led to fatal explosions. And all this comes after a significant company crackdown on factory conditions.
"We've known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they're still going on," a former executive for the company told the Times. "Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn't have another choice. If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?"
Multiple sources from the company confirmed that switching to more ethical suppliers would be expensive and difficult, given that few factories can keep up with the manic demand for new Apple products. "We're trying really hard to make things better," said another former executive, "But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from." However, sources from various suppliers as well as advocacy groups claimed that Apple's aggressive cost-cutting all but ensures that factories will end up cutting corners to improve speed as well as profit margins.
Before we single them out too harshly, it should be noted that horrendous factory conditions have been reported at plants for tech companies including Dell, Nokia, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, and I.B.M. One labor firm that works with Apple to monitor factory conditions even called the company "a leader in preventing under-age labor […] doing as much as they possibly can."
Not everyone is all that optimistic that the situation will improve any time soon. In the harsh words of one current executive: "You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards. And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China."
Terrible, but not untrue. How many people do you really think are going to go cold turkey on their Apple gear in the wake of this news?