Thursday, April 11, 2013

Apple Inc.: Severe Employee Abuse (2011)

Apple Inc. logo

Apple Inc., in 2011, were accused of treating their employees inhumanly and like machines.  To cut costs and increase profits, Apple hired roughly 500,000 employees and started to manufacture their products at two factories in southern China.  At the plants in Shenzhen and Chengdu, there were reported complaints about the conditions within and around the working areas.  Once investigated, the truth was much worse than the speculation.  There were multiple cases of unethical behavior from Apple and the terrible things they put the employees through.  Before an employee can work for Apple, they must sign an anti-suicide contract pledging that they will not attempt to commit suicide due to the large number of deaths in 2011.  Once they get hired, they will most likely work excessive amounts of overtime.  Chinese law states that an employee must not work more than 36 hours of overtime during a month.  Apple makes employees work around 98 hours of overtime, almost three times as much.  Workers also can only take one day off every two weeks.  The normal wages for an employee are around $17-$22 a day.  As you might already know, Apple has many products around the world and because of that, there's a constant demand for iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Mac Computers.  To keep up with the demand, Apple built living dormitories near the factories for employees to live in.  These buildings have hundreds of dorms, each of which is not very spacious.  Around 24 people are assigned to a room and are subject to be woken up at anytime for work, sort of like basic training in the military.  Just days before the first iPhone was released, Steve Jobs made a call to switch the iPhone screens from plastic to glass.  The workers were woken up at 3 a.m., given brief instructions on how to use glass cleaning chemicals and other procedures, and began mass production of the phones.  Situations like this make life absolutely miserable for employees of the plants.  Even if someone wanted to end their life,  Apple installed anti-suicide nets on the outside of all the dorm windows so that the people would be caught and brought back to work.  The events going on in southern China are upsetting and disturbing.  Apple's actions will now be analyzed using the four ethical theories.

Sweat shop run by Apple Inc.

The Economic or Individualism Theory states that people high up in a company need to do everything in their power to satisfy the needs of profitability for their owner(s) and shareholders.  This is the only theory that Apple doesn't violate.  Although what they are doing is insensitive and inappropriate, they are making more money for their owner(s) and shareholders by minimizing costs and maximizing profits.  By going overseas, they have more flexibility on the laws, pay the workers less, and can make the employees work more hours.  Utilitarianism is the view that one should do things to maximize happiness for themselves and for others.  Majority of the people who work in the plants feel upset and are depressed because of the conditions.  When this story broke out, it somewhat stained the reputation of the Apple brand.  Some loyal customers might view Apple now as a terrible and unethical company and therefor buy other brands of computers, phones, and so on.  This means less money for the owner(s) which will lower the price per share and will take money away from the shareholders as well.  In doing so, this will make the shareholders and the owner(s) both unhappy.  Apple breaks this theory because everyone involved is unhappy, to some degree, with what went on.  

Sweatshop workers in China
The Kantian Theory says that one should act rationally while making business decisions, respect people and help them make rational decisions, and to do these good things for the fact that it is the right thing to do.  Before this story came out, no one knew of the horrible events that were taking place.  Apple began this operation behind closed doors and as long as the public had no idea, they continued to operate in this manner.  They disrespected the employees and made life hard for them.  Apple ran these plants only for personal gain and to step on everyone who helped them along the way.  They even lied to consumers by putting up the false front about being an ethical company.  If they personally told the public about what they were doing, mostly no one would buy their products.  

Virtue Theory
The final theory that Apple violated was the Virtue Theory.  This theory states that one should do something in a virtuous and character-like way as well as abiding by the four virtues of courage, honesty, temperance, and justice.  Apple had no courage to stop what they were doing because it was wrong and unethical.  They were not honest to the consumers and the shareholders about what was going on.  Temperance was violated because the amount of expectation for each employee was unreasonable.  There was also no justice for the employees because Apple did not apologize or compensate them for their terrible treatment. 

Apple needs to understand that employees on an assembly line are people, not machines.  They have feelings, they get tired, and they have rights.  Apple went out of their way and did a lot of unethical things just to make a bigger profit.  A big corporation such as Apple should have more consideration for the people who truly made them a big company.  Is ruining the lives of nearly a half of million people really worth making more money?      


"Apple's Chinese workers treated 'inhumanely, like machines'." The Guardian. 30 Apr. 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. 
"Business Ethics (PH 211-02) Class Notes" Western New England University. Spring 2013

"In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad." The New York Times. 25 Jan. 2012. Web. 22 Mar. 2013.
"Is It Ethical to Own an iPhone?" Business News Daily. 2 Feb. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2013

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