I bet you’re all looking forward to the next iPhone. You can bet your phone company is. A new iPhone for phone companies is like all your Christmases at once, with the Melbourne Cup and Moses parting the Red Sea while throwing out fist fulls of hundred dollar bills to everyone. I bet you’re probably wondering how much better Angry Birds and Candy Crush will be on it too right?
Well I’m not excited. Why? Here’s a few good reasons.
Blood diamonds, blood smart phones
Albeit this is a criticism of all electronic devices. There are a lot of very exotic mineral called coltan that go into making those electronics. A lot of the coltan comes from small war torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Apple basically ‘plead the fifth’ and say they aren’t liable if their precious metals come from Congolese war lords. In fairness, Sony have also come under some scrutiny for being less than socially responsible as well. Needless to say where you have war lords, you have child labor. Do you feel good about upgrading your iPhone every year or so now?
Read the source articles: Where Our Bloody Gadgets Come From (Vice) Conflict Minerals, Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo (Vice)
Worker suicides and mass exploitation.
Foxconn are the Taiwanese owned, Chinese based manufacturer of iPhones. In 2010 alone they had 14 suicides, which continued until 2012. At the time (2010) Steve Jobs said in the media these suicides were the result of ‘personal’ issues. A report based on findings from several Chinese universities describes the conditions at Foxconn as that of labour camps. Apple were urged to take the manufacture of their devices to a larger factory but were concerned the transition would interrupt supply. While these suicides were only covered by 24 hour news/business channels in Australia, it was huge news in Asia. Foxconn’s response was to put up anti-suicide netting (workers live on site in dormitories) and increase wages. They even had the audacity to bring in Buddhist monks to ward off evil spirits. But as new models emerge and the Chinese/Japanese market opened up, I’m sure demand creates conditions worse than ever. Some workers have been beaten to death by security guards.
Allegedly, Foxconn workers and their families now sign a legally binding covering payouts for suicide. In fairness Foxconn doesn’t only make devices for Apple. But there is a correlation between new iPhone models and suicides.
No one makes any money on these things
Well except for Apple of course – and Apple don’t play favorites. If you retail Apple stock, you will make the same profit margins as everyone else (estimated somewhere between 3-15%). This figure is significantly higher for Android based competitors’ devices. And you can’t make any money on servicing because Apple do their own. Especially in Australia where approx 70-80% of people insist on an Apple device, if you don’t have them you can’t sell your service (e.g. phone, data) and you make no money at all. Punters just go to a provider that has Apples in stock. So the supply chain is all skewed in Apple’s favour. For service providers and retailers especially it’s slim pickings. There used to be a whole cottage industry around selling Apple products. But clearly that doesn’t exist these days.
Demand creates criminality
iPhones are like the Nike Air Jordans of the 1990s. Back then if you were lucky enough to have Jordan sneakers, you had to be care where you wore them in case someone mugged you for them. Well now there are very healthy supply chains supplying stolen iPhones to China. Not necessarily with violence but they do readily get stolen. Many of them make their way to Hong Kong where they’re resold in mainland China. Don’t believe me, read this story about a New Yorker that went to China to meet the guy that bought his iPhone.
It makes you stupider [sic], ignorant and vain
I find this is a moot point. How much good is mass distraction doing us? So I will let the bearded hipsters at the Huffington Post, the Daily Telegraph, Forbes and especially Cheat Sheet tell us. See the graph below? There is certainly a correlation between getting even stoopider through smart phone ownership. Whether there’s a causal relationship is yet to be proven, but it’s clearly a factor.
They pay as little tax as possible
Apple (as well as several others such as Google and Microsoft) have ‘aggressive tax minimisation structures‘ in full effect. Joe Hockey himself that attendees at the G20 summit told him to ease off on trying to get the taxes Apple owes Australia. As of July 2015 they had a change of heart, but there’s still no word on whether they have changed their ways or paid any owing tax. The only good news is Joe Hockey has quit politics! But rest assured Apple will pay the bare minimum tax. Ensuring this mass capitalism gives next to nothing back to your community.
As Public Enemy said once criticised Nike and other fashion labels ‘the corporations owe/they’ve got to give up the dough – to my town/or else we’re gonna shut ’em down’. Is it too much to ask that we all collectively reap the benefit of those that have thousands of dollars to spend on techno luxuries on a whim? I think not.
So in summary
Apple have created a product with a supply chain that exacerbates child labor, feeds war lords and corruption, creates atrocious working conditions and untold misery, feeds criminal networks and creates no real sustainable profit in the retail supply chain for anyone but Apple. Plus they give next to nothing back to the community.