AirTalk for January 16, 2012

Ethical consumption, or something like that

Workers labor away at a factory in China. Manufacturing jobs can be boring, exhausting and lonely.

“Corporate responsibility” has become a goal for many companies that make the products we use on a daily basis, from shampoo to dog food to smart phones.

It’s not just altruism that prompts them to “do the right thing”– smart companies know it can also mean increased consumer goodwill, which can translate into profits and shareholder value. But what does it mean? How do we measure the “green” factor on store shelves – by sustainability, health factors, environmental or labor practices? And how can we get the information we need about products that may have dozens of steps along the supply chain?

Buying American isn’t enough - last year, Apple came under scrutiny when an astounding 16 people committed suicide at a factory in China that makes components for its iPhones and iPads, as well as for Sony, Dell and HP. The move forced notoriously secretive Apple to improve transparency and allow monitoring of its sources. Last Friday, Apple released the names of its 156 “leading suppliers” for the first time.

The company also discussed the results of recent supplier audits, which discovered several violations including instances of underage labor at five facilities, instances of involuntary labor, excessive hours, unfair hiring practices and safety concerns. Add to this the 300-some people at Foxconn’s Wuhan factory, which makes Xbox’s, who threatened to commit suicide en masse earlier this month.

WEIGH IN:

All this begs the question: how do you feel about your beloved iPhone now? Do stories like this give you pause in your texting? Would you be willing to spend more for a product that you know treats the environment and its workers better?

Guests:

Joel Johnson, Editor-at-Large for Gizmodo.com, where he blogs about gadgets and technology; author of a WIRED Magazine cover story about working conditions at Foxconn, the spate of suicides last year, and what it means for the consumer of the goods these workers make

Dara O’Rourke, professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder of GoodGuide.com


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