Despite being vocal about social justice, members of the Mills College community are not taking political action following the recent reports of Apple Inc.’s controversial factory conditions, which re-entered the news in the past month.
The reports have raised concerns about the health and safety conditions at Apple’s supplier factories.
“More than half of the suppliers audited by Apple have violated at least one aspect of the code of conduct every year since 2007, according to Apple’s reports, and in some instances have violated the law,” the New York Times reported on Jan 25, 2012.
Though Mills’ Diversity and Social Justice Statement challenges students to fight the unjustness of any situation, little has been done at Mills to combat the unfair working conditions at Apple’s supplier factories.
“Social justice refers to a commitment to challenging social, cultural, and economic inequalities imposed on individuals arising from any differential distribution of power, resources, and privilege at Mills and in the larger society,” the Social Justice Statement reads. Despite this call to action, the Diversity and Social Justice Resource center is not responding to the Apple controversy.
The Center for Socially Responsible Business at Mills College and the Diversity and Social Justice Resource Center did not respond to The Campanil’s emails and their phone numbers listed on the Mills website were disconnected.
Sophomore Michele Ezaki speculated that Mills students might be preoccupied with other events in their own lives.
“I think the reason people don’t seem to have an opinion on it is because maybe they have other things to worry about,” Ezaki said. “Not saying labor rights of Chinese people aren’t important, but seeing as most Americans are still being fed dismal statistics every day involving their health insurance, potential for employment, and/or the quality of their economy/education, I don’t know how highly many can afford to place an incident like this.”
Many of the recent reports focus on the conditions surrounding the factories — specifically Foxconn, which is home to the factories that manufacture Apple products, Xbox consoles, and Amazon Kindles, according to the International Business Times.
A Foxconn building explosion killed two and injured 16 in May 2011, according to CNN.
In a Wired Magazine article from Feb 2011, Joel Johnson reported that there have been 17 suicides at Foxconn “in the past half decade.” Johnson also reported that after the death of the 11th jumper, Foxconn placed nets around the building.
Lisann Zentner, class of 2014 president, was approached at the Tea Shop for her opinion about the exploitative conditions in which Apple products are made. Zentner said she had heard about the New York Times article about the factories through Facebook, but had nothing else to say.
“I’m not really the person to ask about this,” Zentner said while sitting at a table in front of an open Macbook.
Ezaki suggested that the reports about Apple are gaining more popularity to get people to respond to the situation.
“Personally, I think that whenever situations like this come to light, it is meant to — and usually does — produce a highly emotional, transient, and basically useless reaction,” Ezaki said. “Even when incidents like this provoke a move for reform, once people get emotional, all they want is a simple solution.”
Many students also declined to share their opinion through Twitter and Facebook. 60 students were personally asked their opinion, five declined to comment, and 55 did not respond. The question was also raised on The Campanil’s Facebook page but only received one response from 639 followers.
Kellie Kendrick, IT Helpdesk Specialist, wrote in an email that most Apple products on Mills’ campus are installed because of requests.
“We don’t really have any comments on the scandal directly, other than it is terrible that a company can create that kind of environment for its workers,” Kendrick said of IT’s stance on the issue.
Two students shared similar opinions.
“While this whole thing is terrible, it’s more terrible that I’m sure nearly every product we own is made in similar conditions and no one cares until the media reports on it,” sophomore Katherine Allen said. “Then, suddenly, it’s everyone’s newest cause.”
Allen noted that these reports are not necessarily something that should surprise the public.
“This kind of stuff has been going on for years, and, while this is terrible and it’s a great wakeup call for the US, we can’t act like this is anything new and shocking,” Allen said.
Junior Toni Gomez, a member of Mills’ EarthCORPS, agreed that this story is not breaking news.
“I would be interested in how it is developing and how Apple has or hasn’t responded to it,” Gomez wrote in an email.
Gomez also cited an episode of This American Life that brought her more understanding about life in the factories. The episode chronicles Mike Daisey, an Apple product fan, and his travels to China to witness the factory conditions first-hand.
“When I listened to the episode of This American Life ‘Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory’, my relationship with consumer electronics was changed forever,” Gomez explained. “I could feel the injustice of the issue settle upon me and I was forced to take a hard look at how I am living my life. The truth, as highlighted in the episode, is that so much of what we wear, use, and drive is hand made. We just don’t like to think about those hands.”
Britta Bullard, Sustainability and Recycling Coordinator, wrote in an email that she did not have time to respond in depth, but cited a presentation from 2008 that was given by Bonnie Nixon at Mills in conjunction with the Center for Socially Responsible Business. Nixon, at the time of the presentation, was the Director of Ethical Sourcing for Hewlett-Packard.
“Here in 2008, there’s been a lot of attention on human rights and labor practice issues in Vietnam, in Southeast Asia,” Nixon said in the presentation. “You’ve got China, of course, which continues to be a real challenge for us in many ways. Of course, companies — when they’re looking at these issues — they always look at the risk: the risk to the brand showing up in a journal or a periodical like this. We’re also looking at the revenue, the reputation, so what’s really critical as we see these issues.”
On Change.org, a social action website, many petitions have been started to urge Apple to create better standards for factories where their products are manufactured. The public’s voice is something that Bullard mentioned, as well.
“The public has purchasing power and can create change in Apple’s international labor practices,” said Bullard. “Period.”