Comparing the conditions of Apple suppliers to those of textile mills
is comparing Apples to cars. The labor practices of both industries
have always been different, as the products are different, the equipment
is different, and the margins are different. He might as well have
compared Foxconn to a coal mine.
There has been a lot of focus on Apple's relationship with Foxconn. But other tech companies also use Foxconn, correct?
Were it only Foxconn, then the questions of Apple being no better
than others in their industry would be valid. However, as there have
been two iPad factory explosions and it was on the iTouch line of Wintek where 140 employees were hospitalized. It is important to understand that the problems are far bigger than Foxconn and are specific to the Apple supplier set.
So for me the distraction is the focus on Foxconn, not Apple, and if
there is to be any real reform at all, it wil require everyone to
refocus their efforts towards Apple's entire supplier set. If it only
remains Foxconn, as we have seen with the recent FLA work, then there
will be no real reform.
Apple does seem to be the focus of a lot of media attention.
Media focus on Apple is a result of three things:
1. Apple is behind (they are only now investing in third-party audits
and building supplier inspections teams), the problems are specific to
Apple (iPad factory explosions and Wintek poisoning), and Apple is
defiant (always saying they hold the "highest standards").
2. Apple's model. Unlike Nokia, Motorola and others, Apple is 100
percent outsourced, so they are going to naturally be exposed to more
3. Apple is the largest technology company in the world, with the
strongest brand recognition, and makes a billion USD a week in profit.
To be clear, the issues of Foxconn and the issues of Apple are
actually quite separate, but it is the media and Apple who are tying
them together. The media, before the New York Times piece, did
this because they did not understand the full breadth of the issues and
had not researched the problems beyond Foxconn. Apple does this because
the more that they can maintain stakeholder focus on Foxconn, the easier
it will be to say that this is not just their problem (i.e., it's the
industry), but that they are working hard to fix the problems (i.e., two
weeks of FLA inspections at Foxconn).
In essence, by focusing on Foxconn and admitting there are problems
at Foxconn, Apple is able to protect themselves. Were this story about
their entire supplier network, or about the wider abuses that occur at
suppliers specific to Apple (i.e., don't source to industry), then Apple
would have a far bigger PR/operations problem to solve.
Chinese labor laws are much different compared to those in
other countries like the United States. To what extent is this the tech
brand's problem to solve? Where does Apple's responsibility end and the
Chinese government's responsibility begin?