Though Apple seems to have dodged the controversy surrounding the working conditions at its subcontractors’ facilities in China, recent allegations have surfaced that hit far closer to home. According to a New York Times investigation, the pay of Apple store workers, who make up over two thirds of the company’s American workforce, is not commensurate to the amount of cash that these workers generate for the company. Indeed, workers who move on average almost half a million dollars worth of product annually have a starting salary of just $25,000 with little opportunity for growth.
Apple, exploiting a perpetually weak labor market for young workers and their naivete, is able to squeeze these workers in several different ways, including:
- paying employees less than they would make at comparable electronics stores such as Verizon, let alone Costco, despite moving much more money;
- violating state labor laws by discouraging workers from taking their legally mandated breaks;
- providing few, if any, opportunities for career advancement;
- and overworking employees to the point where they suffer from stress-related illnesses.
Unfortunately, what allows Apple to continue to do this is its perpetual popularity — people will buy iPhones and iPads regardless of whether or not Apple is an ethical company, and there will be young people willing to work for cheap as long as the economy remains in a recession. Though one might argue that the high demand for Apple products justifies the low price of labor (that is, anyone could sell an iPad to a willing customer), the New York Times investigation disproves this notion, indicating that salespeople are especially crucial to selling the lucrative “add-ons” such as warranties and training.
These revelations further show the importance of encouraging ethical consumption and production. As a recent Care2 post argued, “Informed customers who care about the environment, their community and business ethics are a huge force for change.” The more aware we are of unethical behavior like this, the easier it is for us to consume ethically or demand change in company practice, moving the market with our purchasing decisions.
At the same time, B-Corporations focus on the production side of markets: instead of trying to maximize profit, they make it possible to pursue ethical and sustainable business practices. Indeed, as more states allow B-Corporations to exist, it will be easier for consumers to find products that were made and sold ethically instead of falling to a default like Apple.
Photo from The Pug Father via flickr.