Some commentators have suggested that foreign companies that (in)directly profit from the systematic exploitation of Uyghurs in China must choose between profit and principle.
It seems like a straightforward question: do companies want to profit from the state-organised repression, exploitation and extermination of an ethnic minority, or do companies condemn the treatment of Uyghur people in China and deal with the backlash?
The conundrum underlying the question is as old as capitalism itself: what social costs are we willing to accept in order for companies to make a profit?
The COVID-19 coronavirus is officially a pandemic, the US and Australian share markets have collapsed, both governments have unveiled stimulus packages, and Australia’s trade union movement is worried about the position of casuals. But things are worse overseas, including for the workers who make products for Australians.
20,000 garment workers in Cambodia face job losses from factory closures because of shortages of raw materials from China and reduced orders from buyers in the virus-affected locations including the United States and Europe. Thousands have already lost their jobs in Myanmar. Garment workers in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are uncertain of their futures.
Apple Inc. is the richest and most iconic corporation in the world. In 2010 Apple became the most valuable brand, with an 84% jump in brand value to $153.3 billion. By March 2015 Apple’s revenue was up to $212.2 billion, while in February 2015 Apple attained a market capitalisation of $770 billion, nearly double that of ExxonMobil, Google and Microsoft. Apple’s large profit margins have contributed to a cash hoard of $193.5 billion, which means that the company has more cash on hand compared to cash balances of most industries in the United States combined. In a stark illustration of how extreme inequality disfigures operations in global value chains, Apple’s abundant wealth ultimately rests on the suffering of young workers in electronic sweatshops where human rights, labour standards, environmental safety, and business integrity are routinely ignored.