Last week’s shocking BBC Panorama documentary showed the long road Apple still has to travel in order to get its supply chain fixed and up to the ethical standards it purports to champion.
Alleged long hours, exhaustion and stress enforced by unscrupulous partner firms are no way to treat workers who assemble highly priced devices to sate the appetite of affluent consumers around the globe.
While Apple has said its CEO, Tim Cook, was ‘deeply offended’ by the allegations, citing the work it has already done to improve conditions and engage with the very top of its supply chain, its sometimes defensive approach, as seen in a letter to UK staff from operations chief Jeff Williams, doesn’t help matters.
Neither does the sensationalism of Panorama when this is not just an Apple problem but an industry one.
For its part, Apple does make some interesting points. It says it has 1,400 workers constantly checking on conditions in China.
It says it’s set up the Indonesian Tin Mine Working Group with other companies join order to hold smelters and mines which use child labour accountable.
But while it says it would be cowardly to walk way from the illegal Indonesian tin which it admits finds its way into its devices, saying that wouldn’t help improve the lot of Indonesian workers, it really needs to start coming down harder on companies using these practices.
Apple must also lobby governments which think poor treatment of children and workers is ok. Apple is hugely powerful and can always do more.
But this sorry story says much more about the industry at large than just Apple.
Apple is known within the tech community for being one of the few to actually tackle these issues head on, even if progress is slow.
Of course, the most obvious place for the BBC to look is Apple, as it’s the world’s most recognisable tech brand.
But it’s inescapable that smartphones and tablets of all types are made using questionable materials with methods that are wholly unacceptable in the modern world.
The global demand for ever better technology shows no sign of abating.
And yes, it’s up to companies to improve their working practices.
The BBC and other media outlets need to highlight supply chain issues wherever they arise too.
But it’s also down to consumers to start demanding that every manufacturer, not just Apple, makes moves to stop exploitation.
We can do this by not blindly accepting the words of companies and looking into information ourselves. And, ultimately, by boycotting those who don’t make moves to fix things.
Our love of tech may be changing the world for the better. But for some in the supply chain it seems to exacerbating problems that need fixing now.
2015 is the year to think harder about where all our new stuff comes from.