Monday, June 21, 2010

Turning a Green Apple Blue

My enthusiasm for the iPod and iPad has been well documented here. I’ve also been saying “No Sustainability – No Lovemarks.” For me, Sustainability encompasses economic, social, cultural and environmental dimensions. Therefore I’m duty-bound to pay close attention to the stories about the suicides this year by workers in the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China where many Apple products are assembled (as well as Dell, HP, Sony).

The working conditions at this facility are not sustainable, to say the least. 12-hour days for weeks on end; wages of $130 a month (in the wake of this controversy, Foxconn has increased salaries by 66%); mind-numbing boredom on and off the assembly lines.

When this story broke, Apple handled the issue with kid gloves. Steve Jobs deflected questions about the deaths by pointing out that the suicide rate in the Foxconn factory “is under what the US rate is.” Be that as it may, the conditions of this factory seem to contradict the core ideas of human flourishing and global responsibility that Apple has long championed and consumers have embraced.

Instead of quibbling about statistics, Steve Jobs needs to make it clear that all Apple products are manufactured humanely. And we as consumers need to think more about where products come from. We do this already. Ordering organic, hand-fed Kobe beef in a restaurant is a no-brainer. But we’ll definitely think different if the menu says “force fed factory farm beef.”

Ensuring that factory workers are treated well must be core to Apple’s commitment to sustainability. The iPad, for instance, is made of recyclable materials and is free of mercury and arsenic. But it’s not enough for Apple products to be environmentally friendly, they have to be human friendly!

It’s a perfect example of how the “green” movement falls short, and why the age of “true blue” is upon us. Sustainability isn’t just about the environment, it’s also about the people who live in the environment. In a “true blue” world, innovative ideas are harnessed to create enterprises that benefit the planet, the people, and the purse.

If Apple doesn’t embrace a “true blue” philosophy, the company could lose the respect of even its most loyal devotees. Without respect, Apple would become what no company wants to be: just another brand.

Despite his disengaged reaction to the news, I believe that Steve Jobs will find a way to emerge from the Foxconn controversy stronger than ever. Meanwhile, we as consumers should be willing to pay a premium to ensure that products are produced humanely. Especially products like the ones Apple makes, which deliver the kind of “priceless value” that have made the company one of the most cherished Lovemarks on the planet.