Paul Holmes 14 Oct 2011 // 2:49PM GMT
[caption id="attachment_2520" align="alignleft" width="305" caption="Photo credit: Jacque Davis"][/caption] Mike Daisey, a performance artist with a social conscience, pretty much captures my feelings about Apple and its record of social responsibility. Daisey, a self-described former “fanboy,” has seen the conditions in Apple’s supply chain—which we have written about before—first-hand, and developed a monolog called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” that provides a welcome palliative to the beatification of the late chief executive that has dominated the mainstream media and the blogosphere over the past couple of weeks. "I know that people in charge know about these things and chose not to address them," says Daisey. "And that's hard to swallow when you see the damage it does and you know how little it would take to ameliorate a high degree of human suffering." I don’t have much to add to Daisey’s thoughts on Apple’s track record of social responsibility (except to say that anyone with a shred of social conscience should probably consider spending their computer dollars with a company whose founder is one of the world’s most generous philanthropists), but I do have a couple of comments on the company’s public relations. First of all, take a look at the quote in this article, supplied by Apple spokesman Steve Dowling. "Apple is committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply chain. We require that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made." It’s hard to imagine a comment that reads more like a position developed by a committee of lawyers and less like the kind of thing that an actual human being might say. When The Cluetrain Manifesto railed against corporations incapable of communicating with people on a human level, this was the kind of bland, jargon-ridden, empathy-free BS they were thinking about. You could feed a collection of corporate buzzwords and mealy-mouthed legalese into a computer and the statements that emerged would sound more authentic than this. And second of all, it seems to me that Apple has been getting away with this fundamental inability to relate to people for a long time (it’s not just the callous approach to CSR; it’s also the authoritarian insistence on controlling the media), in part because it makes really cool products and knows how to market them. But if Apple becomes just a little less cool because it doesn’t have Jobs’ design flair or his charisma, a significant proportion of its customers may find themselves—like Daisey—unable to look past the company’s appalling track record on human rights and free speech.