Award-winning journalist Fran Hawthorne has been a writer or editor at Fortune, BusinessWeek, Institutional Investor, and other publications. She is the author of Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love, The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting,and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism, and books on health care and investing.
Could you actually not buy it?
Or at least, before you pull out your wallet, think about the forced student labor, the warlords who benefit from mineral smuggling, the children exposed to toxic waste from old phones, and the pile of useless accessories you'll throw out.
With its constant pitching of the newest cool thing to replace its previous newest cool thing, Apple has always been one of the worst violators of the environmentalist credo “reduce, reuse, recycle.” It barely gives customers a chance to use its toys, let alone reuse, before making the toy obsolete and unfashionable.
But with the iPhone 5, Apple has really outdone itself.
For instance, customers have recently become aware that iPhones and other Apple gizmos are made in crowded and unsafe Chinese factories where people toil 15 hours a day for barely $50 a month. That’s bad enough. Then, just a week before the iPhone 5 went on sale, it was revealed that the factories had dragooned students onto the assembly lines in a rush to get the phones made on time, threatening to kick them out of school if they demurred.
Nor has anything been done to ameliorate the environmental problems. As with any product, making an iPhone uses up resources for the components, ingredients, packaging, and marketing, and also uses fuel and creates carbon emissions in the manufacturing and shipping processes. Again, iPhones are worse than the average, because their components include dangerous metals and ores like coltan, which is found only in endangered gorilla habitats or in African war zones where the profits get siphoned by warlords.
Moreover, when you throw out your old iPhone 4—even if you think you’re recycling it—most likely it will end up in a dump where little kids will poke through dangerous metals with their bare hands, breathing in toxic fumes, to scavenge a few pennies’ worth of metal they can sell.
And with the iPhone 5, Apple has added to its garbage pileup and waste by redesigning the connector on the phone’s base precisely so that most of your old charging cords, docks, iPhone-compatible clock radios, and other add-ons will no longer fit. Into the garbage go all that rubber, metal, and plastic. Out of your wallet comes $30 for a special Apple adapter plus money to replace the accessories that still won’t work on the adapter.
Okay then, here’s an idea: Your iPhone 4S is less than a year old. How about sticking with it just one more year—until the iPhone 6 comes out?
Photo of iPhone from Bigstock.