During the past few weeks a lot of media attention has been devoted to Apple for its corporate record in the developing world. Allegations have been made about literally every possible basic human rights abuse. Since the story leaked about a month ago, reports have surfaced from repetitive strains, to exposure to toxic chemicals, to the deprivation of breaks from work.
In the age of Corporate Social Responsibility large companies such as Apple are expected to act not just in their own best interests, but in the best interests of a wider community. Money spent on marketing and public relations generally reinforces the benign role of the corporation in society. However, as this post will display, Apple, and many other corporations, are not acting in the best interest of anyone aside from their shareholders.
Apple is obviously not alone in these practices. The "Race to the Bottom" of the past two decades has made similar realities ubiquitous in the production of most consumer goods, whether textiles, technology, or trinkets. Practices are widespread across the globe (known as Maquiladoras in Central and South America, or sweatshops across most of Asia). Either way, local populations are exploited by large transnational corporations from the West.
The case has been made frequently that there is nothing wrong with this arrangement and the discourse is still present with the allegations against Apple. Many politicians and business leaders posit that the developing world needs employment, large corporations need cheap labour, and the general public of Western societies desire inexpensive goods. Googling "why outsourcing is good" will provide a better sense of what this argument is all about.
But the question remains: if literally everyone is participating in these practices, why is Apple getting so much attention? The general consensus is that Apple has surged in popularity over the past decade and that it has presented a very clean image through its intelligent branding process. However, I would suggest that an additional item is that Apple's competitors (who are many and difficult to identify for those who aren't familiar with the tech world) have never really had an opportunity to attack Apple successfully. Supporting media attention has been a successful way for Apple's competitors to coordinate. Their aspiration? To gain market share in tablets, smart phones, music, software, and computers (again facing different blocs of competition).
But some of Apple's largest competitors have also been publicly attacked (though only for a short time) for their malicious practices. Some of the best examples are Dell's labour practices in India, Microsoft's tax evasion, and Google's antitrust case. And these items don't even get into the questions of environmental externalities.
Finally, there has been a lot of deference and memorialising given to Apple around the passing of Steve Jobs. The grieving process was very public because of the degree to which Steve was a cultural icon. In the numerous biographies that were produced, the characterisation of Steve was very much centred on his audacious personality. He was renowned for his inventiveness, honesty, and passion . This, of course, despite the degree to which Apple was renowned for not only participating in the Race to the Bottom, but also for being neither philanthropic nor transparent.
What's ultimately, remarkable is that Steve passed away at roughly the same time as Jack Layton (read my post). Despite both being treated like heroes and cultural icons, only one was committed to making the world a better place.