An Open Letter To Apple.

by Daniel Russ on January 31, 2012

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First of all I am writing this on a MacBook Pro. The first computer I ever bought was an Apple. It was the colorful and cool iMac that looked like a cross between a Volkswagen Super Beetle and the Japanese monster Gamera. I loved it. The first computer I ever used was a Macintosh II, supplied by the ad agency where I worked. Every subsequent upgrade was an Apple product. The first product that truly surprised me was an Apple computer, loaded with features and functions I never learned because I upgraded before I could get to them all. The first company to surprise me with superlative customer service was Apple, and going to the Apple Store is still mostly wonderful. I am amazed at the wizardry, grateful for it, and grateful for all the ways digital technology has come to life at the business end of Apple Computers. So don’t be mistaken. I am fully invested in the Apple ecosystem. In fact, I can easily say that all in all I have spent tens of thousands of dollars with Apple over the last twenty years.

 

 

That said, I was so disappointed and shocked to find out that Apple employs upwards of half a million laborers across the globe, mainly in China in factory complexes run by a company named Foxconn. Over half a million jobs given to people outside of my country and with my purchase. I don’t know if you have noticed, but Americans are hurting and America is in shambles. Last year I spent two months freelancing in Detroit working on the FIAT 500 launch. Perhaps Apple managers should take a trip to Detroit and drive down 8 Mile Road. Look around. Dilapidated homes are boarded up and on sale for as little as a dollar. Unemployed men and women mill around like shadows looking for any way to scrape a few coins together; or something to dull the pain of a life with no foreseeable future other than an endlessly grim fight for survival. Detroit is a town that could use some of those Apple jobs. But Detroit isn’t the only city that could sure use the jobs you gave to someone else. So could Atlanta and Stockton and Tacoma and Jacksonville and Tucson. Detroit has long been forgotten by our government and by industry. But a half million paying jobs would do a lot to put this entire country back on its feet.

 

But the fact is the people making Apple products aren’t really laborers. A laborer would be able to walk away from the business, or go to sleep when he or she is tired. A laborer would not be forced to share dorms with people against their will or stand until their legs swelled. Let’s call them what they are: slaves. I never expected that through all those years when I paid top dollar for Apple products that I would be shipping that money not to my neighbors, not to my countrymen, but to laborers in China who have virtually no rights, no benefits, and now with the advent of massive netting stretched above the streets from their buildings, they can’t even find a simple way to jump to their own demise. I had no idea the horror I would be bringing to them. I had no idea that the actual construction of an iPad would bring this kind of misery to human beings. I thought that they were happy for the job. At least when I opposed the invasion of Iraq I could cast a vote or write a letter in protest, the one incontrovertible right I still possess as an American. But the jobs, or if you will, the slavery I helped create completely blindsided me. I had no idea. Sure I knew some parts were made in China but no one at the Apple Corporation stood up and said this was what we were doing. Furthermore, no one protested. Apple knowingly hid the reports, overlooked code violations, turned a blind eye when reports were falsified. I had no idea that these violations included child labor, forced labor, environmental pollution, factory explosions, extensive use of and exposure to deadly toxic substances, and for lack of a better term: imprisonment. Upon posting this I had to update it as now I read that rare minerals are mined from the Congo often run by armed groups of men who no doubt are on the receiving end of my purchase as well. All this time, this magic supply chain has been hidden from view, and now cracks are appearing in the armor of Apple. I understand why. Often, people suffer to make these products.

 

 

When the economy melted down I didn’t know how much money you were hoarding and paying to shareholders, many would easily fit into the top 5% earners in the country. When I bought my first iPad I bought it with American Express Reward Points. I could barely afford it but I did it anyway and like the naïve person I tend to be, I marveled at the user interface and the touch screen and the genius that went into this device. But I never considered the horrible conditions and suffering that also went into it.

 

 

So here is what I would ask of Apple if it mattered.

 

 

First, totally disclose the number of people employed outside of the country by Apple, and fully disclose the conditions of their labor.

 

 

Second, while Apple products are being made in China, stop allowing for violations because of your supply chain and your profits. For once, stand for something higher than the next new gadget.

 

 

Finally, bring those jobs home. Bring them right here, to America. Be loyal to those who made you wealthy beyond imagination.

 

 

Finally, be prepared to lose money. If you are looking for the revenues that would pay a decent salary for all these workers, look at the recent quarterly earnings of $13 billion.  Surely some of that money could be spent in the United States of America. Maybe cap salaries and compensation, say to a million dollars a year. If you cannot make a comfortable living on a million dollars a year, something is wrong with you. If people are being injured or enslaved or driven to suicide to make Apple products, then look somewhere other than your balance sheet. Look inside your own heart. Do what Steve Jobs did: meditate. Perhaps a little time in a Zen garden will remind you about the consequences of always putting money in front of people.

 

 

One Apple executive was quoted on a news program saying that Apple would have to raise the price of its products so that no one would be able to afford them. But I don’t believe that. If you can create a phone that ‘s smarter than its users, then you can make it affordable. If you can’t do this without creating slaves, then you don’t deserve the profits. Free Enterprise requires that you create a better product for a lower cost. To do this fairly, just apply the same creativity that goes into your magnetic charging chord or into iTunes to making these products efficiently.

 

 

Others at Apple have said we don’t have the number of engineers here we would need to do the same job. That is also a pant load if I ever smelled one. Americans can do anything. There are precedents to America doing incredible things at the last moment. When the worst tyrants in the world attacked us on December 7th 1941, Detroit sprang into action. So did the shipyards in Virginia and Connecticut. So did aircraft plants in California and factories all over the country. In fact we designed and built over 300,000 combat aircraft and over 50,000 armored vehicles and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we did as a country to benefit the world and to benefit Americans all in less than five years. You could invest in training engineers. If you need to, bring those engineers to America and maybe labor laws will prevent them from being driven to commit suicide. Imagine 100,000 Chinese engineers buying U.S. homes, U.S. cars, pajamas at WalMart and well, Apple products from Apple.

 

 

I have scant political power. My vote barely counts. If it survives the partisan redistricting of my home state it might not survive the Electoral College. I have long since stopped believing that anyone in Congress represents me. Perhaps if I could put money in someone’s re-election campaign they might. I am not a lobbyist or an industrialist. So asking our deaf Congress to help stop this is like asking the Foxes that guard the hen house not to eat the eggs.

 

 

I do have one thing up my sleeve however. I have this Apple computer, and I have a blog and maybe some social media outlets to post it. Do I expect more than ten people will read it? No. And if by some miracle my opinion rises above the din and catches your attention, do I really expect you to give a damn? Well, perhaps naively so, but yes. I am also a customer. I have been a loyal customer too, extolling the virtues of Apple products even when they didn’t work well. As a loyal customer, I do expect you to listen.

 

 

A brand is a terrible thing to waste. If you really want to save money, preserve your brand. Brands are valuable not because they exist inside your stores, or your factories or even your products. Brands are valuable because they exist inside of everyone else. It’s what I think and expect of you. Your brand exists in me and inside your neighbors and inside everyone else. That was a very expensive and difficult thing to achieve but you did it. The Apple brand has been a shining beacon and in short order you might discover worms in that apple. When Apple consisted of two guys in a garage, America believed in you, poured blandishments on you and held you up as an example of what hard work and clear thinking can do. This country stood by you when you made mistakes and faltered. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Now we’re faltering. This country has been very good to you, Apple. It’s time for you to return the favor.

 

 

Most sincerely,

 

Daniel Clay Russ.

 

A big big fan.

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