HomeblogSeriously conflicted about the iPhone 4s

Seriously conflicted about the iPhone 4s

I’ve been tracking the delivery of my iPhone 4s like a hawk. In fact, it should be getting dropped off at my door in the next few hours. I’ve been rockin’ the iPhone 3G like a boss for over three years now — longest I’ve ever had one phone — and it’s time for an upgrade. The 3G is more frustrating than it is helpful, it’s that slow. I’ve been drooling over the 4s ever since it was announced, but now I’m sitting here thinking I should return it.

Although I often second guess myself (due to extreme bouts of frugality) that is actually NOT the reason I’m conflicted today. No, it’s something much worse. I was reading the news yesterday and happened upon a story about how/where iPhones are made. I. Was. Shocked. Here’s the first few paragraphs from that story…

Normally, the launch of a new Apple device such as the iPhone 4S would make Mike Daisey salivate. But not this year.

Daisey, a monologuist in the vein of Spalding Gray and a recovering “Apple fanboy,” has not upgraded his phone since flying to China to investigate how those smooth, beautifully designed hand-held gizmos are made.

What he found was horrific labor conditions, impossibly long hours and the use of crippling, repetitive motions. He met very young factory workers whose joints in their hands were damaged because they performed the same action thousands of times a shift.

“I was woefully ignorant most of my life. Even though I love the devices deeply, I never had any idea how they were made and never thought about it in the least,” says Daisey, who had assumed robots put together his iPad and iPhone.

Seriously!? I mean just yesterday I said these exact words in my post about Occupy Wall Street: “You think Bank of America is going to stop charging that $5 debit card fee if you say “I hate you Bank of America” while you’re swiping it at the grocery store? Not a chance. You have to say “I hate you Bank of America” and start banking somewhere else. Empty threats are a waste of oxygen.”

Here’s what that statment should look like today: “You think Apple is going to stop engaging in unethical business practices if you say “I hate you Apple” while you’re tweeting from your iPhone? Not a chance. You have to say “I hate you Apple” and start tweeting somewhere else. Empty threats are a waste of oxygen.”

How the hell can I in good conscience buy an iPhone? If I do, I am essentially enabling/encouraging Apple to continue doing what they’re doing; contracting work out to sketchy technology manufacturers. The only way to make it clear that I don’t support unfair labor practices is to vote with my dollar, and not purchase Apple products.

But I love Apple products. In our house alone we have two iPads, two Macbooks, a Mac Mini, two iPhones, and a handful of old iPods. The iPhone 4s is arguably the best phone to have ever existed and I would want nothing more than to own one. But at what cost? At the cost of someone’s well-being? No, I guess I don’t need a new phone that bad.

I want to keep the iPhone so, so, so bad, but after reading this article can’t figure out a way to justify the purchase. The worst thing I could do is say “Man, Apple is involved in some shady business, but the phone is cool enough I’ll pretend I never heard the bad stuff.”

Am I the only person that’s just now hearing about these inhumane work conditions? Why are people willing to compromise their moral/ethical beliefs just so they can have a cool phone? If you are getting (or already have) an iPhone (or similar device), how do you reconcile the information from this report with your desire to own an Apple product? (I seriously believe everyone that has an Apple product has a moral obligation to answer those questions)


p.s. on a much less depressing note I had my first media mention in a published media outlet. If you head to your local grocery store and pick up a copy of this month’s Readers Digest, you’ll notice on page 55 there is a brief reference to myself and my blog (so what if the article is about foam mattress toppers). I found out last night, Readers Digest is the fifth most circulated publication in the world. Pretty sure that means it’s time for me to write a book… right? Took a pic of the article ’cause I was so excited….


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  1. As we discussed on Twitter, I was also unaware of the deplorable conditions in which Apple products are manufactured/assembled. The thought of all those people working their fingers to the bone (literally) is almost more than I can stand. And yet I have no idea what I’m going to do with this knowledge.

    I could return my phone after it arrives and pay the $35 restocking fee. I could empty my home of all the Apple products I’ve loved for so long. But how do I know that the products I buy as replacements are any better? Every electronics manufacturer I can think of gets components overseas. And I would guess that the conditions aren’t much better, if any.

    Like I said, I haven’t figured out what to do. Right now this is all just swirling around in my brain. But if I decide not to keep my 4S, I’ll sell it on eBay before I pay $35 for the privilege of easing my conscience.

    • I was thinking the same thing. I’m sure Samsung, Motorola, etc all have equally questionable operating procedures. We may be in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

      I so badly want to justify keeping the phone ’cause there is no arguing it’s AWESOME, just don’t know if I’m willing to ignore my moral compass to do it.

  2. How about this to justify your iPhone 4s dilemma, at least you are providing them a job. Ugly, but it is what it is. Until you become Apple’s new CEO or a major politician, there is not a great deal you can do. Or you can do an OAH, Occupy Apple Headquarters maybe? I also think you are one of a thousand that worry about working conditions of Apple’s factories. Hmm, I wonder how much those Apple products would cost if they were made in America…

    Your Readers Digest mention is pretty damn epic! 🙂 You must be shopping for a new mattress topper huh?

    • I know that there is virtually nothing I can do to change the way Apple operates, but that doesn’t mean I should support them either. You raise some good points, but I’m still feeling pretty sick to my stomach.

      • Came across this website too which I thought was kind of depressing too,

        Blood diamonds, coffee, cotton, it never ends…

        I think OWS will incorporate this into their mandate of corporate greed and those who participate buy buying stocks for thier 401ks in those corporations and demanding profit at all costs to increase share price…

        Ugh, sorry to go there but had to get it out of my system after reading the comments about the whole OWS deal on this blog and thousandnaires blog…

  3. I’m actually quite surprised you and Andrea didn’t know this. It’s kinda old news. Fourteen Foxconn employees committed suicide in 2010, which is when it ended up all over the news. Hell, they even put anti-suicide netting around the roofs of their buildings.

    But maybe I just read more tech news than y’all.

    • I do remember hearing about companies putting up suicide nets, but I didn’t realize it was because physical working conditions were so bad. I also didn’t realize Foxconn was related to Apple in any way. I thought it had something to do with economic conditions in general. (Shows how much I watch the news.)

  4. There have to be few products that are ethically produced since most are made in China. That is what America has become. We have become rich off slave labor half a world away thanks to Wal-Mart and Costco. It is sad but true.

    • Yeah, I assume that everything is made in horrible conditions. If that’s not the case, there is a large label telling me so. Robots to put together iPhones…hahaha.

  5. Don’t take it out on Apple, blame it on poor labour laws in China instead.

    I’ve worked for a precision plastics company who assembled the iPod for Apple. Volumes were huge and parts of the orders had to be outsourced to subsidiaries in Singapore, Malaysia, and mainly to China. I’ve travelled to all these plants, and what I saw are three completely different scenarios.

    In Singapore and Malaysia, the assembly systems were precise. Many jobs were automated and handled by precision machines, with only minimal human labour involved. However, when I visited China for inspections, the assembly system was exactly like what Ninja had mentioned in the post. Poor working environment, non-existent sanitation etc. And you know why? Because HUMAN LABOUR IS CHEAPER THAN MACHINES IN CHINA.

    You would never find such poor working conditions in Singapore and Malaysia because they have strict labour laws and manpower wage per hour is very expensive. But China has (almost) zero labour laws and manpower wage is non-existent. If I’m a worker laser-etching your name on the iPod in Singapore, I would have time for breakfast, lunch and tea in an air-conditioned environment. But if I’m a worker doing the same thing in China, I would be busting my a$$ off night and day with no break because my unethical Chinese boss told me I could only visit the washroom once a day else my meal “privileges” would be revoked.

    Chances are that when Apple went for site audit and inspections, they saw the high standards in Singapore and Malaysia, and never knew that they outsourced to China. Or, maybe the Chinese plants cleaned up their acts for a week during the site audits, because site audits are almost never surprise visits.

    So don’t blame Apple. Or Forever 21. Or Levi’s. Or all the products you own at home. Because it’s not them who created the situation. It’s the Chinese who are screwing their own people.

  6. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but there’s not a single product we buy these days that isn’t manufactured under “deplorable” conditions. It’s naive to think otherwise. Think about that diamond on GN’s finger, or your Nikes, or your Gap T-shirt… it seems strange that it’s just now bothering you.

    Anyway, I’ve spent my life working to improve health all over the world, and I still buy Apple products. Can’t win ’em all. Besides, the competition is no better.

    • Actually, Gap and its subsidiaries have really improved from where they were a few years ago. I use and to help determine where I buy my stuff and both of those places have ranked those stores at a B. I’m not saying they are perfect, but I’d much rather my money go to a place that is at least taking steps to be more socially responsible than a company who blatantly doesn’t care.

      I think it’s important to be aware of how companies are acting abroad, decide where you draw the line and stick to it.

  7. If your conscience doesn’t want you to have that phone because of Apple’s working conditions, then you can only reasonably do one thing: return it and research other phones until you find one you like that isn’t made in the same conditions.

    I strongly disagree with anyone who says, “Don’t blame Apple, blame China.” Those factories exist because Apple allows them to exist. Apple has $76 billion of cash on hand. Just sitting in the bank, waiting to find a good use for it. If they wanted to increase working conditions in China, you’d have to be wearing blinders to think Apple can’t do anything about it.

    You can have a completely free labor system with zero regulations and workers can still experience good working conditions, but only if consumers make sure they don’t buy from unethical companies.

    • What are you saying Kevin? That Apple isn’t a pure hippie company? That they could do wrong! But this is the same company that all those hippies at #OWS are using….weird


  8. I agree with Kevin…everyone knows that China has terrible labor conditions and even if they cleaned up the factory for a day when they were visiting, they still had those 10 people commit suicide. It’s kind of like what you’re saying – if you don’t support the way a country does their business, pull your business out! Apple can definitely afford to pay workers a decent wage without radically increasing their prices but that’s not how things work here so they never will.

    Maybe Steve Jobs was like a modern day, techy version of Dorian Gray. He made beautiful devices that everyone loved but inside he was falling apart from all the horrible things he knew he was doing.

    Finally, with some research there are ways to lessen the amount of products that you purchase that have a horrible background. Though it does tend to become more and more expensive.

  9. Good for you ninja! I’ve been anti-Apple for a while now and don’t own any Apple products for this very reason: their ethics are crap. It is def hard being anti-Apple in a world where having Apple products is the cool thing to do. Deciding to forego something you really really like because of ethical concerns is very difficult. We all vote with our dollars, something I try to tell folks all the time.

  10. China, India, Southeast Asia; electronics, clothing, jewelry, you name it. Corporations hire overseas where labor is cheap rather than in the US where labor is expensive. Products made overseas are cheaper for consumers. I remember reading on Andrew Sullivan’s blog (can’t find it now) that Apple could not afford to produce its products in the US and still remain profitable. Welcome to reality; nobody’s hands are clean.

  11. Let us know if you do research phones and find a brand made under better conditions. I’m interested, and I wonder what the cost difference would be.

  12. I know I am going to get hate emails so I am not clicking the button to notify me of followup comments, but I see this as a great opportunity for the Chinese. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t be doing it. No one is holding a gun to their head and forcing them to work at Apple. In fact, they could be slaves on a rice farm instead with hunched over backs and out of the labor market in less time because they are crippled by the manual labor of a rice farm. People often look at these situations and go, “oh those poor people.” When in fact those people are very happy about doing it! I know this isn’t the same, but let me tell you about a situation with my company. We hire people in another country and pay them about $2.50/hr to do office work for us (not manual labor…but instead sitting at a computer). Yes, that is right the deplorable rate of $2.50/hr. The nerve of us! (I am being sarcastic) The first guy we hired has recently bought a van. It is the first automobile he has ever had and he is in his 40’s. He put a huge sticker on it that said paid for by my company, because he wanted everyone to know how great our company is. He is making more money than he ever has in his whole life. Now, people in the US get all up in arms about hiring these poor people in other countries without seeing the good that it brings to the people.

    • I dunno, it’s not like they can just leave and get another job. Your movement in China is restricted. And it takes money. Not flaming you, just saying there’s other considerations.

    • I remember when people were protesting Nike’s sweatshops & it hurt Nike’s business. They closed some of the sweatshops. So instead of being able to work for Nike, people were selling their kids into prostitution or slavery to buy food. Not surprisingly, the workers would rather work in the sweatshops. Sometimes well meaning people hurt the very people they want to see helped.

      But, I still think Apple has a moral obligation to provide a decent workplace to their employees & I hope the ones making the decisions have a hard time sleeping at night. But the Nike study did make me think twice about getting involved in such things.

  13. I’m not going to make a Pro or Anti-Apple argument on this one, since ultimately it’s a matter of personal ethics, but this is Apple’s official take on the whole thing:

    Including what they’re doing to address issues, what they consider issues, and the results of audits from the past few years to give you an idea of how much action they’re taking and what impact it’s having. At the very least, it’s an interesting read.

  14. I’ve avoided apple products for a whole bunch of reasons. I can add this to the list but I can’t say that I know google and motorola are any better.

  15. It would be easy to quiet your conscience and keep on consuming apple products. I think it is awesome that you are taking a hard look at the things you buy and where they come from. My recommendation would be to read more sources to confirm these practices and then make your decision.

  16. I am going to agree with Brandy on that if it’s not Apple, it’s someone else. These people who work there is making a better living than they would otherwise. It may not be to our standards, but it’s better than their alternative. We are judging others by our living standrads, not theirs. It’s almost like saying things are weird because it’s not American when we travel abroad. I am not saying there shouldn’t be improvements, because some things could be a little better, such as work environments.

    Secondly, if you are to protest everything that is made in that way, how much are you willing to pay for a fair wage, far trade product? Because it will be expensive. Think Gap jeans are expensive at $50 a pair? It will be 2x or 3x that if someone making minium wage sews that here in the US.

  17. Congratulations on the mention from readers digest. As far as apple is concerned, I would need to research the topic more. I have a hard time believing they have unethical labor practices.

  18. I’ve been following Mike Daisey’s work for the last few months, and, honestly, one of the first thoughts I had when I heard Jobs died was, “How is Daisey going to change his play?” I wish I lived on the east coast so I could see it. I was thinking about writing a post on this topic, but you beat me to the punch (no pun intended). 🙂

    Anyways, I think that morality in America is deeply tied to our wallets, particularly in terms of what we spend our money on. I had a buddy who stopped banking with Chase not over fees, but because he felt that what Chase spent its money on in terms of which Hollywood movies it invested in was not in line with his religious beliefs.

    I think my buddy’s reaction was a bit extreme, but I think that there is value in taking money elsewhere if you don’t agree with a business’s practices. However, I also think that if ANY company were researched enough, one could probably find some reason not to do business with that company. What then? Where is the line drawn? I think at some point we just have to accept that humans, left to their own devices, necessarily tend towards morally repugnant things (a point which, I know, is very arguable), and that we therefore need to kind of just roll with what happens in the world, or else divorce ourselves from it completely (I’ve often daydreamed about buying a generator, buying a cabin out in the woods, and dropping off the grid entirely).

  19. What a timely blog post! I just start my blog about using money to make a difference this week and suddenly it feels like everyone is having the same conversation! It’s been mentioned before that almost everything we buy has been produced in a way that if we knew the details, we would stop buying it immediately. Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it ok.

    There’s lots of blame to go around as to why – to the companies themselves, to foreign countries for having terrible labour laws, to the IMF and World Bank for encouraging de-regulation of industry as a condition for receiving foreign aid etc etc etc.

    The question of “what we can do as consumers to make conditions better” is going to be one of the main themes of my blog, so I don’t want to answer your comment too in depth and risk giving away all my content! But if every time you use your phone for now on, you will feel guilty about the labour conditions used to produce it and therefore decide to return, make it clear to Apple WHY you are doing that (through Twitter, emails to corporate hqs etc). You could also choose to buy a used 4G from someone else who is upgrading.

    Personally, I love Apple products and have a MacBook. Before I purchased it, I emailed them and asked what they were doing to improve worker conditions. I also made a donation to a charity that is fighting for increased worker rights and followed up with Apple to let them know! If you want to go this route you can check out:

  20. I typed a long comment, then lost it, and decided to rewrite my views on my own blog instead. 🙂

    The short version is: While I normally dislike the blind China bashing when it comes to human rights issue (seems rather hypocritical of the West in many instances), in this situation, I believe that the solution lies with China and the Chinese people more so than Apple and its other associates. There are several hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers and demand is outstripping supply across the country. They have bargaining power if they would only come together to use it.

  21. “Why are people willing to compromise their moral/ethical beliefs just so they can have a cool phone?”

    Because people like and you use ignorant as a defense. We live in a society that hurts people. We all *should* know that.

    That’s why people talk about pro-charity and pro-green – it is laughable.

    We consume – People are hurt and even die for it. Trust me when I say, Iphones are not the worst by far. Will people suffer because of our consumption? Yes. They do everyday.

  22. While the situation there is not acceptable to american factory standards America can not legislate how facotries are run in other countries. Also, imagine if you did stop apple from building in that country how many of those people would instantly be unemployed and have no opportunity for work.

    It is sad that Apple has to take the work overseas so it can sell products here but you not buying a phone will not change that.

  23. This is such a tough issue. Perhaps my head has been burried in the sand lately, but this is the first I’m hearing of it wtih Apple.

    Like many previous posters stated, if you look closely enough, most products you buy are likely made under the similar labor practices. Many food companies (Nestle, Hershey’s, etc.) are under fire right now for using child labor. Yet, I’m willing to bet most of us have a product from them or one of their subsidaries in our pantry. I’m sure most of us wear clothing that’s been produced in unethecial labor conditions.

    Where do we draw the line? Yes, we vote with our dollars, but is it realistic to research each and every product we purchase, from toilet paper and chocolate chips to clothing and electronics?

  24. I’ve never owned an Apple product. That’s because I’m morally superior to everyone else. Now, where did I put my shirt that was made in Bangladesh?

  25. Apple is great at marketing their products since you have so many. They created demand that can not be satisfied. New products come out and you can not wait to dump the old ones.

  26. Off topic, but Ninja – how come you didn’t tell us you won a Plutus award???

    Best Debt Blog:
    Finalist: Debt Free Adventure
    Finalist: Debt Free By Thirty
    Finalist: Enemy of Debt
    Winner: Punch Debt In The Face <—–
    Finalist: Yes, I Am Cheap

    Don't be afraid to toot your own horn! Congratulations Ninja 🙂

    • Ah you noticed, I am in the process of figuring out how to blog about it without sounding like im tooting…my own horn that is. I’ll be sure to upload a picture of the trophy! It’s dope.

  27. This reminds of the time I went shoe shopping at Sport Chalet. I was minding my own business when I over heard this obnoxious lady yelling at the sales clerk about finding a shoe that would fit her needs but was made in the USA. I was taken back at the fact that she made it so public she didn’t want anything made out of the country. Once all the commotion settled I got a chance to have small talk with her and her husband which eventually led to, so what’s up with not buying things made from elsewhere? She immediately said it wasn’t anything personal and that she was not racist. The reason they do not buy anything made outside of USA is because they travel a lot and have done extended research on 3rd world labors (completely understandable). However this couple really sticks to their guns to not supporting the exploitation of the poor victim of these sweat shops. They said everything they own down to the toilet paper in their house was made in USA. They also admitted that just by them not buying products from other countries it will not change or completely stop the shops from continuing but for their conscious sake it’s one step closer.

  28. Yeah, any electronic you’re going to buy has coltan, a mineral used in capacitors. The mining and sale of which is driving the conflict in the Congo. Horrific, horrific violence is being perpetrated against innocent people (women in particular) as part of this conflict. Stuff that will give you nightmares is happening to real live people.

    I try to avoid buying, really thinking long and hard about how important the purchase is. I buy second hand whenever possible (especially for clothes). When I do buy new I try really hard to make the product last. I donate to charities dedicated to educating and empowering people living these realities. And I watch this when I need a reminder (its long but worth your time).

  29. I really don’t think Apple is the only bad company here. Now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I’m pretty sure the people who made my TV, shoes and even some groceries weren’t the best practicers of good ethical behavior. So if you are going to vote with your dollars, it’ll be a long quest to research ALL of the companies who do bad.

  30. Although I want to own an iphone 4s fairly badly — I believe using an older iphone is the answer to being truly frugal. I wrote an article about the pro’s and con’s on my blog. I’m rocking out a 3g right now and I bought an Iphone 4 for $250 (in perfect condition, only 3 months old) this morning.

  31. If you want to be a Microsoftie anyway, you should just get a Windows phone, they work quite well, but I’ve never been an Apple fan.

  32. […] Punch Debt in the Face wondered if he should return his brand spankin’ new iPhone after reading some not-so-great things about Apple’s factories in China.  The comment section has a whole bunch of different perspectives so go and check it out: Seriously Conflicted about the iPhone 4S […]

  33. Apple is far from being the only company guilty of this. Many of their products are actually made by Foxxconn. Foxxconn also makes products for:
    Acer Inc. (Taiwan) (United States)[16]
    ASRock (Taiwan)
    Intel (United States)
    Cisco (United States)
    Hewlett-Packard (United States)[18]
    Dell (United States)
    Nintendo (Japan)
    Nokia (Finland)[17]
    Microsoft (United States)
    MSI (Taiwan)
    Motorola (United States)
    Sony Ericsson (Japan/Sweden)[19]
    Vizio (United States)

    Whether you buy an iPhone or a cheap Motorola flip phone, it was most likely made in the same place.

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