The Empowered Consumer: Will 2012 move from awareness to action?

Jackie Titus

Last week’s NYT iEconomy series has ignited a discussion around one of the most recognized and arguably loved brands of our time. The first article looks at why manufacturing jobs at Apple have gone overseas and are likely to stay there. The second reports on labor conditions inside Foxconn, one of Apple’s primary manufacturing partners.

As I read the second article about reported working conditions for the individuals who made the device I was holding, I began to consider:

What should Apple do?

To be fair, this issue is in no way limited to Apple. Foxconn is a manufacturing partner for several electronics companies bearing household names. However, Apple is a recognized leader in manufacturing and has significant influence. It raises the question of whether Apple has a strategic opportunity to leverage its influence and demand a dramatic change in working conditions.

We are familiar with the transition Wal-Mart has made from a villain to a pioneer in corporate sustainability, and the standards it has implemented among its suppliers.  A reasonable argument is that Apple can and should do the same, but it’s more complicated than that.

?At the end of the day, we know Apple is running a business, and arguably the best around at doing just that. In Q1 2012 they sold 37.04M iPhones. This exceeded industry expectations and if the numbers are accurate, @LukeW shared a staggering statistic with the Twittersphere:

“There are more iPhones sold per day (402k) than people born in the world per day (300k)”

With a demand like that, as a business, Apple must supply it. Which leads to my next question…

What should consumers do?

The role of the empowered consumer was one of most exciting things to watch in 2011 and will continue to be in 2012. The rapid adaptation and influence of social platforms continues to grow and the voice of consumers is getting louder.  So, what is the tipping point at which consumers will tell Apple (and the industry at large) that they need to address labor conditions in the supply chain, and move from awareness to action?

Are consumers willing to accept that dramatic changes in manufacturing standards will likely impact availability (slower to market) and cost (likely to increase), and once that happens (assuming quality and service remain the same) are they willing to stick around?

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