Apple is the archetype of the entrepreneurial success story. They've got an insanely loyal customer base and products that even Apple's competitors concede are the gold standard for consumer electronics. Not to mention the pioneering legacy of Steve Jobs.

Apple also has a reputation as a "good" company, not just in terms of a good place to work, but a company that is trying to make the world a better place. CEO Tim Cook calls this the company's "moral compass."

There are some people, however, who think that Apple has not moral compass and in fact is secretly almost evil. That contrarian viewpoint was recently articulated in a The Nation. Here's the short version of the argument:

  1. Apple has benefited from U.S. government research since many of the technologies its devices use were invented by organizations like DARPA.
  2. Because Apple benefited from such research, they're morally obligated to not avoid paying U.S. taxes. Instead, Apple keeps much of its money overseas.
  3. Because Apple benefits from such research it has a moral obligation to employ more Americans. Instead, it's outsourced most of its manufacturing.
  4. Apple's suppliers have been guilty of overworking employees and hesitant to release data about possible pollution further up the chain.
  5. Because Apple earns an average of $600,000 per employee per year, it should pay its in-store retail personnel more than an average of $30,000 per year.

Needless to say, it takes about 10 seconds to come up with the obvious responses to these somewhat overwrought accusations. Here what I thought:

  1. So has everybody else.
  2. As a corporation, Apple is legally bound to provide the highest return on investment.
  3. Same as #2.
  4. Apple's supply chain is arguably cleaner and more humane than everyone else's.
  5. That's more than what most retail workers make, which is an average of $21,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In other words, the idea of Apple being somehow evil or without moral compass is ridiculous. It's just not true. However, that's not to say that Apple is perfect. With that in mind is there some way to turn the absurd accusations into constructive criticism?

Just for the sake of argument, I reconsidered my responses to those accusations. Here's what I cam up with:

  1. "So has everyone else." My mother used to tell me that "just because everybody else is doing something doesn't mean it's a good idea." Since it's widely seen as a role model for innovation in American business, shouldn't we hold Apple up to a higher standard?
  2. "Highest return on investment." Well, yeah, but the concept of "all that matters is profit" is a relatively new phenomenon. Thirty years ago, most companies tried to show what was then called "corporate responsibility." Most executives believed that a corporation has an obligation to do right by the community. Might not this be an area where Apple could show more leadership?
  3. "Highest return on investment. (again)" I can't help but wonder if locating more of Apple's manufacturing in the United States might result in more workers with enough money buy Apple products? As for outsourcing, Tesla is building its big battery factory in Nevada rather than China. Couldn't Apple do something similar?
  4. "Cleaner and more humane." True, true, but that's a pretty low bar to clear. If you dig deep enough, most high tech supply chains benefit from slave labor, if not directly (from upstream suppliers) then indirectly (in the form of cheaper materials, lax building codes, etc.) There's no denying that outsourcing can be a dirty business. Could Apple lead the way to fix this?
  5. "Way more than most." Retail wages in the United States are so low that even Walmart and McDonalds are voluntarily raising them. And $30,000 is less than the minimum wage of $15 an hour that's the minimum wage in some parts the country. It's not as Apple lacks the money. Couldn't Apple pay its retail workers just a little more?

I think these are fair questions to ask. In other words, Apple definitely has a "moral compass." But Apple's not perfect, so 'm not entirely certain the compass is pointing the exact right direction.

Maybe I'm expecting too much, though.