Sunday, 23 January 2011

Apple - "Think different"?

As I've mentioned in one of my other posts, I love technology, although I'm not a big spender when it comes to technological gadgets and am quite conscious of waste and consumerism.  Within my own - fairly arbitrary - sense of "reason", I try to limit my contribution to both.

A year and a bit ago, I bought an Apple laptop, and I honestly think it was one of the best purchases I've ever made.  I didn't have a laptop before and it's proved extremely convenient.  I love being able to use a computer from any room in the house and even take it with me and use it elsewhere when I'm travelling.  I'd only really used Windows before and am very much enjoying the Apple experience.  My experience - in general - is that it all just works!  It boots up in 30 seconds and it's responsive when I'm using it.  I particularly like the multi-finger touch pad, which allows me to scroll with 2 fingers, browse and switch applications with 3 fingers and perform various other operations.  The standard windows laptop, single key touchpad with extra buttons for left and right mouse click feels very clunky and awkward by comparison.

Another Apple invention which I've been very impressed by recently is the iPhone, although on balance I've decided that if/when I do buy a new phone I'll probably go for something Android-based because the iPhone seems like a very closed system and I'd prefer something I have a bit more control over.  I also think Apple have been very controlling about their marketing strategy - e.g. initially only allowing the iPhone to be used on O2 - and this also put me off it somewhat.  The iPhone is still an amazing piece of kit though, and completely ground-breaking when it first appeared.

The thing I like most about Apple devices is their strong focus on usability.  Apple devices usually don't just do the job, they're easy - enjoyable even - to use.  Technology shouldn't just be about doing clever things it should be about people - it is for people after all.  I think Apple have got this dead right.  It was with some disappointment therefore, that I recently came across this article (I've already posted about this on Facebook, so apologies to those of you who've already read this or seen my comments on it), discussing a report on Apple (among other IT companies) regarding their activities in China (an important part of their supply chain because of its much cheaper labour costs).

It seems that Apple's concern for people and even for the environment (see here), extends only so far as they think it likely to directly affect their profits.  In fact according to the article referenced above, for their activities in China, Apple were rated joint bottom out of 29 global IT companies, by a consortium of 36 of China's leading environmental groups.  Particularly concerning is their apparent disregard for the health and safety of their workers.  Here's an extract from this article by the Guardian:

"... last May ... at least 62 workers fell sick after inhaling n-hexane used to clean touch screens at a Wintek electronics factory in Suzhou. The managers at the Taiwan-owned plant reportedly switched to the noxious chemical – which can cause nerve damage for up to two years – apparently because it dried more quickly than alcohol, thus increasing efficiency.

Hospitalised victims, cited in the new Green Choice video, said they made products for Apple and have written to the company's chief executive, Steve Jobs, requesting an explanation.

Nokia and Motorola responded to questions about their involvement with Wintek soon after the poisoning was revealed. Apple has yet to confirm or deny a relationship. The company said it would not comment on individual allegations."

The authors of the report particularly highlight Apple's secrecy - in contrast with other IT companies who are willing to disclose more information - about its supply chain and it's mechanisms for auditing the environmental impact and working conditions of its suppliers.

If you think this is a bad state of affairs, and that at the very least Apple ought to be more transparent about its operations and more accountable for its claims of environmental and social responsibility, would you please join me in signing this petition?

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  1. This was posted on sojourners the other day:
    It seems that apple are not the worst but could do better

  2. Thanks for that Nick. I notice the link you've posted is specifically to do with how the supply of minerals used by electronics companies is helping to fuel conflicts, particularly in the Congo. I hunted around a bit and found a ranking of all the companies involved in that survey here

    Interestingly, Hewlett Packard come out top of this list and they also ranked well on the Chinese report I referenced above.

  3. Update: seems Apple have made some improvements - thanks to Phil Abbott for this link - and they've also been doing some work on sourcing conflict-free minerals.

    On close inspection I'd say there's still some fairly obvious corporate greenwash going on here, but it does seems like a significant step in the right direction.


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