Sunday, March 11, 2012

[PL 431] A moral obligation to boycott Apple?

In "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," Peter Singer gives the following argument: 
  1. Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad. 
  2. If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we are morally obligated to do it.
  3. It is in our power to prevent suffering and death by giving money to causes such as famine relief.
  4. Therefore, we have a moral obligation to give money to causes such as famine relief.
How much are we obligated to give? Singer gives the following argument:
  1. If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we are morally obligated to do it. 
  2. Our interests and those of our dependents matter only to the degree that they are of comparable moral importance.
  3. “Interests,” such as material goods (smart phones, fancy restaurants, expensive clothes, etc.) are clearly not of comparable moral importance compared to the plight of poor and hungry people.
  4. Therefore, affluent people in affluent countries are morally obligated to do everything in their power to relieve the suffering of the victims of famine, even if this means drastically changing their lives.
If Singer's arguments are sound, then they mean that we are doing something morally wrong whenever we go out to a fancy restaurant instead of giving to famine relief. According to Singer, unless we are poor and hungry ourselves, we have a moral obligation to give to famine relief instead of spending our money on luxuries.

Now, The New York Times recently reported on the horrible conditions in which people who work in the factories that manufacture Apple devices are forced to work. See also the following CBS News report:


 
If these reports are accurate, and if Singer's principle that "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we are morally obligated to do it" is true, then does that mean that we have a moral obligation to stop buying Apple devices (since by doing so we are not only not preventing something bad from happening but also contributing to something bad happening)? Is owning an Apple device of comparable moral importance relative to the plight of the workers who assemble those devices?

6 comments:

  1. It seems that we do have a moral obligation to boycott Apple due to these horrible working conditions. The only way to affect this large corporations is through boycotts of products to decrease their revenue. To continue to support Apple would be helping to continue a bad act. I can't help but feel that something like this would never occur. People around the world in these factories are being exploited.

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  2. Antonio Montuori (Ethics TF 10:40)
    Buying an Apple device is not of comparable moral importance. Through the purchasing of these products, one may say we are condoning the immoral workplace of the Chinese factories, thus indirectly causing harm to the workers. In Signer's argument, "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it." but it does not answer questions about who is responsible for creating certain bad outcomes, and who is in a position to improve them, may be relevant to the extent of a person’s duty of assistance. Is it actually in our power for one individual to stop buying an Apple product, so morality can be established at the workforce? I do not believe so, one cannot simply by his own and due to distance be able to prevent anything by not buying an Apple product. Yes, there might be an extremely small percentage of buying an Apple product and supporting Foxconn but the effect is too small to incorporate into the grand scheme of things. In relative, more happiness will be felt by the buyer in buying the product than any change to a life of a worker. Also by buying the product, we are able to support our own economy more than the negative impact on a factory worker. We cannot disregard the total happiness involved here. Using a Utilitarianism viewpoint, when we purchase the apple product, the consumer is happy, the salesman is happy (directly effecting his life by receiving commission), the substituents of the economy(and Apple) are happier by money flow. By boycotting the Apple product one necessarily decreases total happiness in relatively small amounts, but still larger than the total decrease of happiness from the factory worker.
    Instead of boycotting a mass produced product, Singer's belief needs to be opposed to people who do have control over these situations, like the CEOs of Foxconn and Apple. Individuals with moral obligations should be the people stopping this. What makes someone morally obligated? I believe one needs to be able to realistically balance his happiness with the rest of society, and be able to make a change. If an individual was dying of thirst in sight of you, and you had the ability to balance your water intake and give some to the individual, I believe, you will be morally obligated to do so. One here is within morals and reason to behave in this matter and be of importance, unlike one who does not buy Apple products.

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  3. Sumaiyia ChowdhuryMay 1, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    According to this argument, people have to refrain from being happy and fulfilling their own desires in order to accommodate others. If everyone decided to focus on bettering the lives of others while forgetting about their own advancements, there would be a less amount progress in the world. People with an excess amount of money invest their money into things such as new technologies that affect the overall quality of life of people all over the world. If they focused all their resources and energy helping individual people, less people overall would be helped. There are more impoverished people in the world than wealthy people so their efforts would not be worth while. When people buy from companies like Apple, these huge companies donate money and use their resources to help charities around the world.

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  4. Singer's arguments are not sound. I disagree with the idea that we are obligated to help or relieve victims that are suffering from famine. We work for our money and for the most part many of us earn what we have. We should not have to deprive ourselves of certain luxuries as a result of others not being fortunate enough to do the same. There will always be people who are hungry for food, or need a roof over their heads. This does not mean that those of us who can afford certain luxuries should not be able to indulge because of this.

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  5. I don't think that we have a moral obligation to stop buying Apple devices. This is because we are NOT preventing something bad from happening (plus contributing to something bad happening). Yes, the conditions of the workers in China are harsh. Thousands of workers are in very bad condition and are treated horribly. However, MOST conditions for workers at that STATUS are like that. The working conditions are all relative. In the United States, the conditions of the workmen might seem like the worst thing ever. However, In China, a country that is becoming more and more industrial, many workers are going through similar conditions. Therefore, I believe that we are not contributing to something bad happening. If the workers don't work for apple, they will just work for another product, or engage in other forms of labor with similar bad conditions. In addition, if we follow that rule, then we have to stop buying A LOT of products that are made in many third world countries (Bangladesh, India, etc). This cannot be applied, since the economy would fall and would lead to bigger conflicts. If we do not buy apple products, the WAY the factories are in China will lead to other workers still being in those bad conditions. Therefore, I believe that we do not have a moral obligation to stop buying apple devices because we are not preventing something bad from happening and also not contributing to something bad (since it will still happen). Also, I believe that owning an apple device is relative to the plight of the workers. Since the apple products MEAN so much to us. Just us the low wages that those workers get mean so much to them. At the end of the day, its all relative because the apple products are something we value so much, just like the wages and the need the workers have to work.

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  6. If Singer's principle that "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we are morally obligated to do it" is true, then that means we are morally obligated to stop purchasing devices from Apple. No matter how you look at it, owning an apple device is not as important as the life of another human being. According to the report, workers in the apple factory have committed suicide because the conditions are so bad. In addition, the factories in China employ many children and make them work in harsh conditions. This is against all human rights laws and is an evil way to run your business. Another reason why purchasing an apple device is morally wrong, is that there are many other companies that make similar products to apple. You can buy a dell computer or a Samsung tablet with ease. Instead people choose to buy apple and in effect help this evil practice continue. If you think of this as a universal law, most people would not want to live in a world where people are abused to make products for others. With all this being said, people will still buy apple including myself. Human beings are not always moral in their actions. We are selfish and get caught up in our own world. We will continue to buy products from companies like Apple without regret and support an immoral company.

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