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Apple Suicides – a Blotch on the Brand?

I was troubled to read of the suicides at the Foxconn factory in China, main manufacturing centre for Apple’s i-Products. Being an Apple advocate, I felt cheated and let down. As if I’d been in a long-term relationship in which I had implicit and explicit trust in my partner, only to discover he’s the same as ‘all the others’. I’ve always loved Apple’s innovation, and the value it places on training its staff, as well as its commitment to the customer experience.

Steve Jobs’ response (more than 2 weeks after the news broke) was cautious to say the least. He described his ‘puzzlement’ at the situation, claiming that working conditions at the factory are actually ‘good’. By this he must be referring to facilities such as the ball nets used for workers to channel their anger and frustration. Conversely, no-one is allowed to talk on the production line, or even in short breaks. As human beings, what’s most important to us is to connect, to share our humanity, to be part of a community and to build meaningful relationships. Take that away from the workplace, and no wonder there’s a high rate of depression. Amazing how the obvious can be overlooked.

The second phase of my process with this story was a little more uncomfortable. It was a realisation that as an Apple consumer, I share responsibility with Steve Jobs for the conditions of these workers in China. I’m a ‘silent partner’. Ultimately, I asked myself, would I be willing to pay twice the price for Apple products, if it came with the knowledge that every link in the supply chain enjoyed the same working conditions as me? I’d like to think that I would. But would I really? Would you?

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