Only Apple (can singlehandly stop worker abuse).

When we buy our smartphones, tablets and laptops, Americans sustain an unjust system that diminishes human life. We ignore the suffering of those who build our gadgets, because it’s too damned inconvenient to give up our precious devices.

But reports like this one, published in the New York Times, make worker abuses harder to ignore. The Chinese factories where workers assemble our gadgets are harsh, difficult, and dangerous. The industry’s margins are so slim, the competition so cutthroat, that many companies sacrifice worker well-being just to keep afloat.

If only there were a company that weren’t desperately trying to remain profitable. A company whose monumental earnings meant it didn’t need to squeeze out every drop of profit. A company that could spare some cash to push back against the system. A company that could afford to adequately protect the supply chain’s factory workers. A company with the clout to dictate terms.

Of course, there is such a company. It’s Apple. The Cupertino firm has over $200 billion dollars in the bank and wields unprecedented power over the industry. As one former Apple executive told the Times, “Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”

Some might object to the proposal that Apple voluntarily undermine its profit margin for the sake of worker welfare. After all, stockholders expect executives to maximize the bottom line. Apple is a business, not a non-profit. And, besides, Cupertino isn’t doing anything that their competitors aren’t doing too–in fact, Apple may be the best of the rotten bunch.

But Apple has led the way in justice issues before. In fact, when one stockholder complained that Apple should focus exclusively on the bottom line, CEO Tim Cook bristled. He countered that Apple does “a lot of things for reasons besides profit motives. We want to leave the world better than we found it.” Apple has already paced the industry on environmental issues and accessibility. Could Cupertino set equally ambitious standards in worker treatment?

Maybe it’s asking too much for Apple to take such a risk. Maybe it’s unfair to expect Apple to shoulder the cost of responsible manufacturing. But the truth is that no other company is in a position—financially or philosophically—to effect such a change.[1]

In other words, ‘only Apple’ can do this.

  1. Plus, this effort needn’t be strictly altruistic, nor need it eliminate Apple’s competitive advantage. In fact, the initiative might pay for itself. Just imagine: guilt-ridden Westerners, lined up to purchase the industry’s only conscience-friendly gadgets. The marketing practically writes itself.