Recently, Apple announced that during a check-up on their overseas factories they found a number of factories using child labor. Rather than try to hide this unsavory discovery, Apple decided to admit to the public that yes, a 10 year old probably helped make the very MacBook Pro you’re using right now. At first glance, this action seemed like the socially responsible thing to do. Let the public know, remind them that this is not something the company condones, and assure them that this is not Apple’s fault, not at all. Damn those sneaky production centers. This course of action has produced commentators like the one quoted here:
Please name any other tech company that is actually working to ensure that the working conditions in the factories where these components are made are at least tolerable and the workers are not exploited? Please list what Nokia or Palm or HTC are doing to ensure the parts that go into their phones are not fabricated by exploited workers or child labourers?
Really? Just like anyone else, I too want to believe that companies are adopting these so-called “corporate social responsibility” measures for the good of the world. But when it really comes down to it, why does a corporation spend the extra time and money to go through these steps? It’s all about the bottom line, baby. The media is ready to pounce on any company with Ecuadorian factories that hire five-year olds or managers who lock-in employees overnight. Customers become defiant, refuse to buy products from these evil evil corporate monsters, and then what? Profitability drops, investors become worried and disgruntled, and executives run around scrambling to come up with a half-decent damage control plan.
Although this specific example only looks at Apple (and yes, I do use a Macbook Pro), they’re not alone in this practice. Most companies, no matter how much they try to deny it, practice CSR to make customers happy. If customers are happy, then they’ll continue to support the company and buy more products and pay for more services, which means mo’ money. It is so easy for a consumer to simply exit if he or she doesn’t like the current options, so it is in the best interest of a company to use CSR as a component of its competitive strategy. After all, if everyone else is doing it, there’s really no other option. And if no one else in the industry does it, well hey, the first mover has a lot more to gain than to lose.
Here’s what Fake Steve has to say about this issue, since no piece of Apple news is complete without him.