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Ethical Products?

February 1, 2012

The Register today has a fun article on a petition being started to ask Apple to produce a “more ethical” product line.

The emotive petition paints a picture of a young girl in a Chinese factory being steadily poisoned by the use of n-hexane, promising that the neurological damage will see her out of a job and on the streets within a few years. It’s a call that no one could ignore, and will likely attract the target of 50,000 names pretty soon.

But it’s a picture Apple would – and does – dispute. Apple monitors its suppliers, and publishes an annual report detailing everything from failure to wear ear plugs to excessive aluminium dust in the air (the latter being responsible for two, separate, explosions in the last 12 months). Many of the abuses came to light though Apple’s own auditing, and the CEO Tim Cook has been busy writing to all the company’s employees to remind them how much Apple cares.

There’s a reference back to a New York Times article that started the whole thing as well.  Subscription required, of course, which is anothe reason why the Times is losing ground…

The last thing I’d want to do would be to claim that I wouldn’t want to see a “more ethical” product, I suppose.  That would be akin to saying I’d like to kick puppies (for the record, I don’t, and don’t believe my dog when he says I don’t feed him enough).  But can someone please tell me what an ethical product is?  The article notes that the petition isn’t going into details, so the originators apparently don’t have any more clue than I.

I don’t want to bring back memories of Upton Sincliar for anyone here.  I’m more interested in understanding what constitues true responsibility for any company that sub-contracts, and what business goals should be in place.  If Apple produced a completely-ethical, not-tested-on-animals, made-in-America-by-union-labor product, nobody would buy it.  It’d be too expensive.  So obviously there’s some line that can be drawn.  Who gets to decide where that line is?

The wonderful thing about a capitalist system is that we can debate corporate responsibility and discuss limits of the imagination on where people should start and stop.  And we can also vote with our wallets on whether we like the results.  Somehow, though, I don’t imagine that many of the 40k or 50k people who sign that petition will actually change buying behavior based on an article or two.  So if you’d like to feel better, go ahead and find the petition.  In the meatime, I’ll go back to making sure I charge my laptop from a sustainable plug today.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. joe permalink
    February 27, 2012 2:15 pm

    I totaly agree.

    http://www.coastalroasters.com

  2. February 2, 2012 1:46 pm

    Yep, that petition is pretty silly, alright. Reckon it’s a silly type that feels better about him/herself after a symbolic act. And then goes back to doing whatever they were doing, without substantially changing anything.

    I think I’ll start a petition, asking TV show producers to make more ethical programming now . . .

  3. February 1, 2012 3:17 pm

    I’m not sure what “fair trade coffee” means either. Probably that it’s made by communists. I’d rather not buy fair trade.
    Clean environment and good working conditions are something that people demand as they get wealthier, and the best way to assure it is through trade. Not to say that I’d gladly buy something made by slaves, but if it’s made by slaves, it’s not trade.

  4. Ellend permalink
    February 1, 2012 2:59 pm

    I wonder how many of those petition signers would give up their iPhones, iPods, iPads, iMacs because of the called-out “ethics” violation. Not many, I’d venture.

    I also seriously doubt any of those who have these devices would be willing to pay the price for as you put it “a completely-ethical, not-tested-on-animals, made-in-America-by-union-labor product”.

    Like you said, if you don’t like a company’s policies or ethics, DON’T BUY THEIR PRODUCTS. That will get them to change their practices much faster than signing some petition. To me, it’s kind of like complaining about TV programming. No one is forcing anyone to watch those programs.

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