What’s in an iPad?

There was a very excitable person with a new iPad in the office today. Several of us gathered around to coo at it as though it were a new baby.

But after coming across a piece in The Independent on the ethics of the iPad’s production, all of a sudden, the baby wasn’t looking so cute anymore.

It adressed something that I am ashamed to say, before now, I hadn’t given much thought to; the ethics behind technology.

“While the ethical implications of low-price food and fashion are now ingrained in the collective consumer consciousness, the same does not follow when it comes to technology.”

It’s true isn’t it – our conscientious considerations rarely come into play with purchases of computers and televisions. Even though historically these goods have been getting cheaper, we rarely stop to think about the ethical impact of that price drop in the same way that we do with cheap clothing retailers.

A survey carried out by Covalence – a company that tracks the ethical reputation of multinationals – reportedly found that technology companies were portrayed as the most ethical in the world – IBM, Intel and Cisco were at the top of the list.

But of course cheap technology, like cheap clothing, comes at a price.

A wave of employee suicides at an electronics manufacturer in China brought this to our attention earlier this year. In a factory producing iPods, Dell computers, Nokia mobile phones and Nintendo Wiis, there were 13 staff suicide attempts. They were blamed on inhuman hours and gruelling working practices enflicted on those working there. And the deaths were hugely embarrassing for Apple; they came on the eve of the much-hyped iPad launch (the managers at the factory have since responded with a 30 per cent wage rise).

These incidents should have set alarm bells ringing for ethical consumers. But instead of concern however, Apple devotees still queued overnight last month to be the first iPad. No one mentioned overworked Chinese factory workers. Perhaps they were oblivious, who knows.

So why do we appear to care so little about moral dimensions when we buy technology? Xavier Petre, of United Pepper, an ethical electronics firm, pointed out that our relationship with technology is not as personal as it is with other everyday goods:

“We care less about technology from an ethical point of view because in most cases our ethical awareness starts with the products we use the most. Food and clothes are products we need to survive, they are necessary, unlike electronics which not everybody uses. On a corporate level, there is more auditing and companies now want to be seen to be ethical. For consumers, awareness is less but it is starting. Some people cannot afford to spend 10 to 15 per cent more for ethical goods and others simply do not want to pay extra. Price is often the top consideration.”

The increased consumer and corporate ethics-awareness then is encouraging. As the Independent puts it, “a conscience-clear iPad, mobile phone or games console really would be worth queueing up for.”

What do you think?

Do ethics come into it when you’re buying gadgets in the same way that they may do when you’re buying clothes or free-range food?

It’d be interesting to know your take on the matter…


Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd, www.bluewoodtraining.com

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