Apple protesters make me really mad
About four months ago, thousands of people held vigil outside Apple stores, honoring deceased cofounder Steve Jobs and joining a sudden canonization -- deification, really -- process that raised him above mere mortals. Today, crowds return to those same shops in anger, protesting workers' treatment at Apple factories in China. Whoa, how brands, and emotions about them, suddenly change.
I'm simply appalled, not by Apple, but by the protesters. This is no Arab Spring, people.
Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer producing iPhone and other Apple gadgets, is a hot topic following New York Times and "This American Life" exposés last month. Reporters found questionable working conditions -- by supposed American standards. People rushed to the InterWebs to criticize and defend Apple; I purposely wrote nothing, disgusted by bloggers and journalists looking to profit from the scandal -- riding the buzz to fame (in some cases infamy) and higher pageviews.
Many of these writers change positions depending which way opinions blow, while others are Apple apologist turncoats that are seemingly credible but really don't want to be on the wrong side of popular sentiment. Well, what they perceive it to be. Bloggers, journalists or anyone else looking to benefit from Apple's Foxconn problems are bad or worse, for they stand on the backs of the same Chinese workers they claim to defend. (I debated linking to some of these posts, but decided not to single out any writers.)
If critics were sincere, rather than capitalizing on topic of the moment, they would have gone after Apple in early 2010, ahead of iPhone 4's launch, when a rash of suicides at Foxconn factories made big headlines -- and they would have kept up the public pressure, even after Apple publicly worked with Foxconn to make changes to improve working conditions. The Foxconn furor died down as iPhone 4-crazed hipsters, many of them seemingly the same people attacking Apple today, snatched up the smartphone -- and iPad, too.
The recent furor really started in early January with "This American Life" segment "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory" and two Times stories: "How the US Lost Out on iPhone Work" and "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad". I applaud the reporters and their outstanding investigative work. It's the pundits and protesters who followed them that bug me -- the ones pretending Foxconn factory problems are suddenly new, that Apple has done nothing to improve working conditions or that products for other high-tech firms aren't produced there. All the blame is Apple's.
I can understand this position from the non-bloggers and non-journalists, meaning those not riding the wave of perceived popular sentiment. Apple hipsters who use little or no other vendors' tech might be blind to all others outsourcing manufacturing to Foxconn facilities. They might feel blood on their hands, too, for buying Apple products produced in China; their guilt relief is to accuse Apple. I say, look to yourself. You paid for the over-priced gadget. You empowered Apple manufacturing in China by your purchases.
Something else: Apple is now the largest tech company -- actually biggest of all by market valuation -- and that makes it a target. I remember when during the 1990s, Microsoft's size and success brought all kinds of accusations with it. Apple was cuddly and lovable when the feisty upstart, but it no longer flies the pirate's flag (as it did during the first Steve Jobs era). Apple is the establishment -- the man! Who do people protest? Or hold most accountable?
I'm not here to defend or criticize Apple's, or any other vendor's, responsibility to Chinese workers sweating over tech products. I will say this: For American protesters, there are plenty of injustices here at home to worry about. A parade of down-and-out or homeless folks go through our recycle and trash bins every day. We help who we can. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of homeless students here in the San Diego school system. Where's the humanity in that, and what are you willing to do about it? People can easily protest -- walk up to an Apple Store and hand in a petition -- when asked nothing more.
Our family cat disappeared nearly a month ago, and we're now fairly confident that a coyote got him. But we go every other day to the San Diego animal shelter and the adjacent Humane Society. I was stunned to see the luxury the cats live in at the Human Society. Some rooms, where one cat waits for adoption, are larger than my bedroom. Meanwhile, people live on the streets -- and some of them with jobs -- while these animals are coddled. Who's protesting for the street people?
I say this to Apple protesters: Shareholders have a right to make demands of Apple. You do not. They own the company. If you're a protester and not an Apple shareholder, you have no real right to tell Apple what to do. Exercise your real power. Show your support for Chinese workers with your wallet. Don't buy Apple products. By protesting, what you want from Apple is a guilt-free purchase -- to have your cake and eat it, too, as the saying goes. That's not justice or better working conditions in China, but really about you and your feelings about Apple and buying its products.
As today's planned protests approached, several petitions appeared online, such as this one at Change.org, which has about 200,000 signatures. To Apple protesters, I say: It's easy to demand change when you don't have to make any. I would take more sincerely a petition where signers agreed to pay XX dollars more per iPad or iPhone -- hell, let's just say $50 -- to improve working conditions at the factories producing the tech. Now that is meaningful. Anything else is more about purging signers' guilt for buying Apple products than committing to substantive change.
You're either part of the problem or the solution. If you buy Apple products and protest for change, you're not part of the solution. You're part of the problem.