Apple Inc. is one of the biggest and most valuable global corporations. Most of its recognition, brand value, and profit comes from the sale of its iPhone smartphone devices. The production of the iPhone product is a complex multi-stage process which impacts local communities and creates global phenomena that have long-lasting consequences for society and the environment.
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The iPhone is a highly complex device that consists of numerous components which originate from all over the world. Apple is considered to have developed a system considered the epitome of a globalized supply chain economy. Many of its connection and power components, such as the LTE modem, wi-fi module, and battery are made in China. Storage, cameras, and displays are made in Japan. Meanwhile, the processor and RAM are developed and produced in South Korea. The parts are made of metal, conductors, and rare earth minerals which are mined in specialized locations in China and California. The extensive nature of this supply chain requires precise coordination with external firms and governments to ensure a stable delivery of components to the manufacturing location.
The iPhone is produced through a combination of machine and human labor in factories that are specifically outfitted for production line assembly. One of the most well-known corporations known for iPhone manufacturing is Foxconn, based in China. The company employs thousands of local Chinese workers in its Shanghai and Shenzhen factories. These workers commonly live in company-provided dormitories, in poor conditions and overwhelmingly strict discipline. This includes a rigid schedule with public humiliation or grounds for dismissal for the smallest offenses. Workers are often not permitted basic human comforts or rights, such as to use the restroom.
The environment is extremely high pressure, leading to a noticeable rate of suicides.1 Despite being a large Chinese national company, Foxconn violates numerous labor laws, including hiring underage employees and forcing upward of 70 hours per week, while falsifying documentation.2 Overall, the employees in Foxconn factories are lower class, wage employees which the company views as largely expendable.
Impact on Community
More than half of the tens of millions of iPhones that Apple sells each year are produced at a Foxconn factory complex in Zhengzhou, China. It employs approximately 350,000 people and has become a microcosm of its own, being labeled as iPhone City by local residents.3 It has had a significant impact on the local community and livelihoods of residents. In 2010, the area was underdeveloped farmland, until the government bought it for the factory. Since then, the area has developed a large infrastructure, both commercial and residential. The economic impact is far-reaching as the complex not only attracts local residents but also myriads of Chinese populations following the trend of urbanization as they move to the city to work for Foxconn.
Generally, the factory has led to an increase in wages and lifestyle quality in the area. Salaries range from $300-$700 which is a significant increase over $150 for factory salaries a decade ago.4 However, these residents still live as a lower class and sometimes in poverty and are usually unable to afford such luxurious products as an iPhone. The livelihood of practically every resident and business for tens of miles around the factory is dependent on the choices of Foxconn and popularity of iPhones which require such investments for their production.
The iPhone device has had a significant impact on communities in the decade since its release. It has stimulated a societal by being gradually developed into the ultimate digital device which is used simultaneously for communication, entertainment, mobile computing, and much more.5 The iPhone is used in all aspects of life and society, ranging from private use to professional and business purposes.
Problems with Factory
The biggest issues with Apple’s iPhone production factories are its labor rights abuses. In 2012, almost 150 workers climbed the room of the factory building and threatened to commit mass suicide as a protest against horrifying working conditions. A similar attempt occurred in 2010 with 18 people jumping and resulting in 14 deaths. The negotiations lasted for almost three days until a compromise was reached.6
A recent protest in 2017 saw hundreds of workers blockade the entrance to the factory as a protest against unpaid wages. Despite attempts by managers to hide the situation, it became a public relations crisis for Apple, forcing it to intervene.7 This suggests that production factories for the iPhone have negative impacts on the local worker population, resulting in large protests to correct injustices by using Apple’s global brand as a platform.
Costs of Production
The iPhone product is considered to be a high tier, a luxurious smartphone with prices ranging from $700 to upward of $1200 depending on the model and characteristics. Foxconn carries a significant amount of influence as a corporation, even in the United States. A Foxconn plant built in Wisconsin has led to a significant shift in utility distribution. The counties bordering the plant requested a diversion of water from Lake Michigan to fulfill the needs of the plant. Furthermore, the EPA relaxed its limits on both air and water pollution coming from the factory in exchange for the supposed economic value of the factory.8
A power utility bought land to build a substation for the plant and supporting infrastructure. However, the project is estimated to cost $117 million, and the utility company will distribute the cost amongst the 5 million residents it serves over the next several years by incrementally raising prices.9 Under the pretense of economic growth that Foxconn brings to a region and its status as the primary manufacturer of iPhones, it uses its influence to accrue significant social costs, regarding utilities, environmental impact, and other services. Foxconn rarely bares the expense burden of utility projects, pollution impacts, and maintenance of roads outside its immediate vicinity.
It is common knowledge that production as well as disposal of smartphones has a significant environmental impact. Apple is relatively transparent with its products, releasing an environmental report for each model it produces. The new iPhones are estimated to create between 57 and 79 kg of CO2 each in its lifetime. The majority 80% coming from production, 2% for transportation, 1% recycling, and approximately 17% from customer usage.10
In the last decade, Apple’s issues with environmental impact have been extensive. These ranged from one of the largest dependences on coal (54.5%) to power its data centers and manufacturing to the use of toxic, non-degradable materials in its components. In 2013, various environmental organizations accused Apple’s manufacturing partners of extensively polluting local water supplies and tropical forests. In recent years, Apple has focused on optimizing its devices and production process to remain as environmentally friendly as possible. Reduced use of arsenic and PVC, along with a higher reliance on renewable energy.11 It suggests that company leadership is considering the extensive consequences of the manufacturing process.
Apple’s iPhone device is evidently one of the most important global brands and products. It undergoes a complex process of development and production with various components and extensive social costs. Furthermore, the manufacturing facilities play a vital role in the economy and society of whole countries. Therefore, every time one purchases an iPhone, it is essential to consider the path it has traversed.
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Associated Press. “Utility Buys Wisconsin Land for Substation to Power Foxconn.” StarTribune, 2018. Web.
Gottsegen, Gordon. “The iPhone X Won’t (Totally) Destroy the Environment. Here’s Why.” CNet, 2017. Web.
Jacobs, Harrison, and Annie Zheng. “Tens of Thousands of Chinese People Live at the Mercy of Apple’s Factories — And They Don’t Even Work There.” Business Insider, 2018. Web.
Kamenetz, Anya. “A Day in The Life of an iPhone Factory Worker.” FastCompany, 2014. Web.
Karcz, Anthony. “10 Years with the iPhone: How Apple Changed Modern Society.” Forbes, 2017. Web.
Kinetz, Erika. “Workers at iPhone Supplier in China Protest Unpaid Bonuses.” Business Insider, 2017. Web.
Merchant, Brian. “Life and Death in Apple’s Forbidden City.” The Guardian, 2017. Web.
Moore, Malcom. “’Mass Suicide’ Protest at Apple Manufacturer Foxconn factory.” The Telegraph, 2012. Web.
Price, David. “Why Apple Was Bad for the Environment (And Why That’s Changing).” Macworld, 2017. Web.
Sun-Times Editorial Board. “Editorial: A Big Factory Gets to Pollute, and You Get to Wheeze.” Chicago Sun-Times, 2018. Web.
1. Brian Merchant, “Life and Death in Apple’s Forbidden City,” The Guardian, 2017. Web.
2. Anya Kamenetz, “A Day in The Life of an iPhone Factory Worker,” FastCompany, 2014. Web.
3. Harrison Jacobs and Annie Zheng, “Tens of Thousands of Chinese People Live at the Mercy of Apple’s Factories — And They Don’t Even Work There,” Business Insider, 2018. Web.
5. Anthony Karcz, “10 Years with the iPhone: How Apple Changed Modern Society,” Forbes, 2017. Web.
6. Malcom Moore, “’Mass Suicide’ Protest at Apple Manufacturer Foxconn factory,” The Telegraph, 2012. Web.
7. Erika Kinetz, “Workers at iPhone Supplier in China Protest Unpaid Bonuses,” Business Insider, 2017. Web.
8. Sun-Times Editorial Board, “Editorial: A Big Factory Gets to Pollute, and You Get to Wheeze,” Chicago Sun-Times, 2018. Web.
9. Associated Press, “Utility Buys Wisconsin Land for Substation to Power Foxconn,” StarTribune, 2018. Web.
10. Gordon Gottsegen, “The iPhone X Won’t (Totally) Destroy the Environment. Here’s Why,” CNet, 2017. Web.
11. David Price, “Why Apple Was Bad for the Environment (And Why That’s Changing),” Macworld, 2017. Web.