Forget about racism in the US for a minute and consider economic inequality across the globe, which often breaks down along racial lines. Unexamined ‘white privilege’ has become a buzzphrase lately, as people become more aware of some of the advantages built into American society for non-minorities–simple things like the presumption of innocence in some cases. It’s a complicated issue with myriad contributing historical and present day factors. What’s less complicated is tracing the making of an iPhone, a product for which the majority of customers are white Westerners. (Not all, but a majority.)
A horrifying new documentary about Apple from the BBC traces the making of iPhones, claiming that Apple produces its products (and its vast wealth) at a giant human cost that the average Westerner never sees. According to the documentary, Apple sources the tin for its iPhones from Indonesian mud pits that use child workers, who risk (and sometimes lose) their lives in the pits. The doc also revisits the terrible conditions for workers in Apple’s Chinese factories. Nothing new there–Foxconn, one Apple supplier in China is known for a high suicide rate among workers. There is a Fair Trade movement gaining ground among Americans that traces the food and other products they consume back to their sources. The movement seeks to assure consumers that what they buy isn’t farmed or manufactured by indentured servants somewhere–and that the consumer isn’t doing any harm to the earth or other people by buying it. It’s a movement that seeks to eliminate privilege and encourage fairness in capitalism. For some reason conscientious consumers, despite mounting evidence, have so far given Apple a pass. Privilege, after all, is enjoyable if you don’t look too hard at it.