With severe working conditions in the factories of mega-corporations like Apple making recent headlines, a new survey reveals that consumers say they are willing to wait for delays in the release of new technology devices if the trade-off is humane working conditions for employees.
According to a new survey of 1,019 adult Americans commissioned by the National Consumers League and conducted by ORC International from March 22-25, consumers feel strongly that they do not want their products to be manufactured in unfair, overly harsh or dangerous working conditions, and they’re willing to make some sacrifices for that.
Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents agreed that they would be “willing to wait longer to get the latest electronic gadget if [they] knew it was produced under humane working conditions.” Only 1 in 10 said they would be unwilling to wait. Thirteen percent were undecided.
“With Apple and its Chinese manufacturer, Foxconn, in the news for overly harsh and dangerous working conditions in China, it’s very encouraging to see that consumers not only care a great deal about the working conditions of the people who manufacture their electronic devices, but they also find it important that workers in shops and restaurants here in America are also treated and paid fairly,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg.
NCL, the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, was founded in 1899 by Progressive-Era advocates who believed that consumers’ buying decisions should reflect the working conditions they accept for their fellow citizens. Early leaders exposed child labor and other scandalous working conditions and worked to establish a minimum wage. Today, NCL’s ties with labor issues and organized labor remains strong, and NCL advocates for consumers and workers on a variety of issues. NCL commissioned the ORC survey to examine contemporary American concerns about labor issues, in light of a challenging economy for both consumers and workers.
Other survey highlights
Working conditions are important for an overwhelming number of consumers.
Nearly three-fifths (59 percent) of respondents said it is very important to them personally that the products they buy are not made under unfair, overly harsh, and dangerous working conditions. Nineteen out of 20 Americans – 94 percent – surveyed said that the way workers are treated is “very important,” “important,” or “somewhat important.” Only one in 20 said it was either not important or not a consideration.
Education needed: Many Americans are still unfamiliar with the concept of wage theft.
NCL’s survey revealed that 3 in 10 respondents did not report having ever heard of “wage theft,” and few are aware of direct experience with it, either personally (10 percent) or through someone they know (20 percent). This demonstrates a disconnect from reality; according to the National Employment Law Project, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of low-wage workers in a 2008 survey actually experience at least one pay-related violation (wage theft) in the previous work week.
Consumers overwhelmingly side with workers
Despite a lack of specific knowledge on the concept of “wage theft,” respondents overwhelmingly agreed (“strongly agreed” – 60 percent and “agreed” – 33 percent) that employers who cheat their employees out of the wages they have earned should be fined or punished in some way. And respondents nearly unanimously agreed that it is important (23 percent) or very important (68 percent) that the stores and restaurants they patronize pay their workers fairly for the wages that are owed.
“Wage theft continues to not only be a leading problem for low wage workers who can least afford being cheated in their paychecks, but also an increasingly growing problem for states who are being cheated out of million of dollars of tax revenue,” said Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft.
The National Consumers League's Special Project on Wage Theft seeks to raise awareness about the nature of wage theft in the United States and strives to educate consumers, workers, businesses and governments about wage theft issues.