Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

Summary: Cheap products or ethical products - you choose!


The petition by watchdog group SumOfUs which asks Apple to "make the iPhone 5 ethically," got me thinking - how much more would you pay for an "ethical" product?

Could Apple do this? According to SumOfUs, yes:

Can Apple do this? Absolutely. Apple is the richest company in the world, posting a profit margin for the last quarter of 42.4% yesterday. They’re sitting on $100 billion in the bank. According to an anonymous Apple executive quoted in the New York Times, all Apple has to do is demand it, and it’ll happen – “Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”

Cutting to the chase here, what SumOfUs is saying is that by cutting into that 42% profit margin, or dipping into that cash pile in the back, Apple could afford to make an ethical product. But there would be cost, and inevitably that cost would be passed on down the chain to the consumer.

Side note: How much of a difference would an ethical iPhone 5 make when you consider that pretty much every other bit of consumer electronics is made is similar (or worse) conditions to those that the iPhone are manufacturer in? In reality, this is an industry-wide problem, but it's being made an Apple issue because of how much money the company is making from its products.

So my question is this - how much extra would you be willing to pay for an ethical iPhone 5? Let's assume a base model at $199 ... how much would you be willing to pay on top of this to have the device built ethically?

Note: If you aren't the type to buy an iPhone, assume something else costing $199 that you would buy.

[poll id="750"]

Topic: Apple

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  • Nothing

    If the global vendors behave properly, do cloud properly ... and we can cut out the middle men like banks media moguls and money lenders (AMEX, VISA, ...) ... and especially Apple ... then the cost of computing and media will come DOWN significantly.

    I don't think many ZDNET bloggers realise that :-(
  • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

    Apple is not a standard hardware company, we all know Apple sells superior products, they really care about build quality, design, superior technology and that is why their products are not cheap.
    I don't own any MacBook Pro, but I own an iPod Touch, I still find it difficult to get a MacBook Pro or Air because I still can't afford one.
    I don't think Apple would change their products to be cheap, that's not how a company like Apple has built on their brand for the past 15 years.
    Gabriel Hernandez
    • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

      @Gabriel Hernandez What brand? They own a small market niche and are currently top dog in an smaller niche. A 42% profit margin is huge and being built unethically. Being American used to mean we didn't put up with this conduct.
      • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

        @fldbryan@... That's right. Apple could make up the difference in increased cost by lowering their profit margin a little and charging a little more for the device so the additional expense is spread out to both Apple and it's users. Don't put it all on the user by just increasing the price.
    • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

      @Gabriel Hernandez What does "ethical" have to do with "cheap"??? There is nothing in this article that suggests Apple should or would drop the quality of their products. Actually, it asks just the opposite: how much MORE would one pay for an otherwise identical product that was manufactured "ethically"?
  • Bovine Elimination

    I'm not falling for the trick of calling it an "ethical iPhone." In fact I think this is a highly <i>un</i>ethical idea being pushed by people who live in la-la-land where their good intentions never have any untoward consequences.<br><br>Is it their intention to push China back toward an agrarian economy where the vast majority of the population is tied to subsistence agriculture? That's where this Wonderful Idea goes. And that's if the entire industry picks up on it. If only Apple makes these changes (assuming the Chinese government allows Apple to upend their industrial infrastructure and piss off the other 90% of Chinese factory employees [fat chance -- .ed]), they will create a privileged class of Chinese workers. That's what happens when do-gooders from la-la-land try to make things better without having the slightest idea of the complexities of the problem.<br><br>Let the Chinese worry about China. It's their country, they get to industrialize on their own schedule on their own terms. The last thing they need is people from the place that took a century to get where we are now, telling them they have to reorganize their entire society -- as we did -- by this time next year. This is not Doing Good. It is not being ethical. It is trying to force our values on other people who want what we want, and who are smart enough to know that doesn't happen by law and decree. It only happens by hard work. Have we forgotten that we used to work hard? Have we forgotten that no one came along to "help" us by telling us how to organize our society?
    Robert Hahn
    • So if Apple insists on better treatment for Chinese workers...

      @Robert Hahn <br>...they might upend the whole society? I agree that it wouldn't be wise to pay people more than they're worth in the local economy, but would better/safer working conditions be a bad thing? How about less pollution generation? What I know I don't want is a large number of wealthy multinationals with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in China or other third world countries, or importing it here (we've seen this play before and it turns out badly).<br><br>I'm also not at all certain that upending a Communist dictatorship would be such a bad thing; nor do I think that an economy where employers do the right thing voluntarily instead of waiting for Big Bad Government to make them (as happened in the West) be a tragedy.<br><br>Am I correct that you would have opposed any effort by 19th century do-gooders (and there were lots of them) to avoid buying slave-grown textiles? I assure you that supporters of negro slavery made many of the same arguments that you're making here.<br><br>Reply to Bruizer:<br><br>I never claimed we were a paragon of virtue. If we were, we'd need many fewer laws. My point was that Western employers did wait until government imposed lots of laws and regulations on them in an effort to force them to do the right thing. We still suffer the consequences of that.<br><br>Reply to Robert:<br><br>I ask serious questions and all you can do is to retort with a childish insult? Like it or not, we are involved by virtue of the fact that U.S. corporations have exported most of their manufacturing operations to China and the third world. The question is, what do we do about it (both as individuals and as citizens)?<br><br>Reply to oncall:<br><br>I'll note that economic development in the U.S. was largely accomplished by local entrepreneurs, not foreign investors (though the latter certainly had a role); with a major infrastructure contribution by U.S. taxpayers. My suspicion has long been that foreign investment actually retards the growth of free societies that native entrepreneurship encourages.<br><br>Further notes:<br><br>A pro-business political climate is a lot easier to sustain if a high percentage of the citizenry are either self-employed or can reasonably expect to be at some point in their working careers. A huge majority of workers who can only reasonably expect to be employees tends to encourage an adversarial relationship between management and labor that spills over into the political realm.<br><br>And in a Communist dictatorship like China, where all aspects of life are closely controlled by the Party, individual initiative is downright subversive.
      John L. Ries
      • Employers still don't do the right thing even in the West.

        @John L. Ries

        Enron? Subprime lending? You could go on forever. The "West" is far from a paragon of virtue.
      • You are so smart!

        Your intentions are pure. You mean well. But... it's not your country to manage. It's theirs. Stop trying to practice animal husbandry on human beings. Thank you.
        Robert Hahn
      • There is a big difference

        @John L. Ries

        Between "do-gooders" working within a society to bring about positive change and "busy-bodies" thinking they can impose their lofty standards on another culture that predates ours by a few thousand years by holding out a small carrot. Ours standards were brought about by decades of hard work and sacrifice. How could we even hope to impose otherwise, we could not even print enough money to do it given the massive population difference between the US and the developing world.
      • As to foreign investment

        @John L. Ries

        I cannot really say. I do recognize however that the wealth we enjoy has come about through time and factors favorable to us such as: abundant natural resources and fresh water, abundant arable land, a limited population that was (in general) well educated and aggressive, favorable government towards business, a lack of significant enemies sharing a common border with us and well as the time of rapid development in which we exist. That's why I find this discussion so amusing. The very thought that paying 10-100-1000 or even 10,000 more for an iPhone or any electronic is going to significantly impact the course of a country of over 1 billion people is, well hubris at best.
    • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

      @Robert Hahn
      +1 good post . Goes against human nature for the rich and governments
      not to exploit the masses that's how they get to govern and become rich.
      The two are not mutually exclusive and haven't been throughout history
      The rich either govern or they buy and influence governments its all in our history and for the most part will not change .
      preferred user
    • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

      Total agreement.

      Reply to Robert Hahn
    • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

      @Robert Hahn - if that's the case, would you draw a line anywhere in relation to how human beings are treated in another country? What about child prostitution? Is that another case of it's another country and let their government look after it?<br><br>You are being short-sighted in dismissing the efforts of others to allow other people to be treated fairly and safely. Positive improvements have occurred due to these types of efforts, not close to where it should be, but it is progress. Instead, you would prefer to stick your head in the sand, and hope for some foreign government to finally take action. I guess you're not your brother's keeper.
      Ryck Marciniak
    • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

      @Robert Hahn That's communist China. Does that mean anything to you?
    • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

      @Robert Hahn
      It seems folks are forgetting that our success through hard work was only possible due to the laws of our Republic. The American factory worker was low paid, worked 6-7 days a week, often kept in dept to the company facilities, and had a good chance of injury. If injured, out you went and tough for you. But they were able to organize and use law to make things better. Sure there were fights etc. but our Republic made the betterment of the worker possible.

      They do not have that chance in China and there is no use pretending they do. We sent jobs over there for reducing cost and have tried real hard to pretend the human cost does not exist. Greed for the bottom line for stock payoffs drove it. That makes us culpable and as guilty as the Chinese government. The Chinese govt will only do what it thinks it needs to do to look good while the behind the scenes reality continues.
  • So it would be ethical to...

    Simply pull out of China and watch all the wage increases of the last 10 years simply fall apart and GDP/capita collapse?

    The Chinese population would all go back to work in farms and work related accidents and death rates would again increase to 1990's levels. Given the suicide rate at FoxConn's facilities are 80% LOWER than the greater part of China, the conditions working there must be better than the conditions of NOT working there.

    This would be "ethical" behavior?

    Can conditions improve? Heck yes. Are conditions better in working China now than they were 10 years ago? Heck yes. Is it possible to raise conditions overnight? Has not happened yet. It is a slow process to change a mindset of 1,000,000,000+ people.
  • An option was missing

    Nothing. I would not pay one nickel more. You act as if these costs would be payed by the consumer. Wrongo! The ones paying the costs would be those who can least afford it, the producers on the assembly lines. What, you think because Apple suddenly demands a 40 hour work week Foxconn is just going to double down on its rosters and pay everybody the same? How about a big fat pay cut all around to make up for the need to hire two people to do the former work of one. Or better yet invest more into automation and cut out the labor pool entirely. Advance the labor pools standards faster than the local markets will bear? That's pretty much how the US chased its manufacturing jobs away.

    It's a pity people cannot seem to wrap their heads around the fact that there are many places in this world where having a job, ANY job, is FAR more preferable to having none.
    • By the numbers

      [i]That's pretty much how the US chased its manufacturing jobs away. [/i]

      That came from unilateral greed. The greed of 1) corporate brass to want an ever larger slice of the pie to pocket; the greed of 2) organized labor to want an ever larger slice of the pie to consume; and the greed of 3) our government lawmakers to want an ever larger slice of taxes to fund their perpetually expanding base.

      Guess who eventually won? [Hint: Number 1 bought off Number 3, leaving Number 2 basically holding an empty bag, to the detriment of union and non-union workers everywhere. Number 1 was then free to go foreign to its heart's content].

      [i]It's a pity people cannot seem to wrap their heads around the fact that there are many places in this world where having a job, ANY job, is FAR more preferable to having none. [/i]

      You mean like right here in the USA? Only how low should we go, and how much loot should corporate execs be allowed to rake off the top at the expense of everyone and everything else? Compared to the brass of the past, the top to bottom pay plus perk differentials that exist today makes our modern day penthouse executives basically bandits. Self serving bandits.
  • RE: Would you pay more for ethical consumer electronics?

    Why should people pay more? Seriously, it is Apple Exploiting everyone and not the other way around!

    Crud, Apple charges the Carrier More and expects them to subsidize the phone! They pay the workers less so they are getting it on that end...

    Sorry but Apple should give a little back without expecting to get more for their products...

    Think about it, the 4s no longer has the best screen on the market, it is fragile, features a smaller screen, only comes in 3G, can't replace or upgrade the battery, Can't upgrade the storage... Do these things make it a bad device? No but many phones have similar specs and you get them for free... Some phones Leverage LTE and larger screens to demand a higher price (granted, they are usually 32Gig so they match the 4s pricing)...

    What I am saying, is that the 16 Gig 4s certainly isn't under priced so delivering any less or even marginally more should not drive the price up!

    As for Quality, Apple's quality is no higher than HTC and in some cases might not even be that high and even Motorola builds a very Solid phone so comparisons have to be made here for pricing purposes.

    One more note, I feel bad for Tim Cook, because he has to deal with all these PR Nightmares that Jobs left behind.