Apple is breaking records with its earnings, but it's also getting some bad publicity in the wake of a New York Times report that painted a picture of the workers in China who assemble iPhones, iPads and other devices, often in harsh labor conditions.
Specifically, The New York Times cites employees who work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. The paper also reports workers who claim they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk, as well as advocacy group reports that Apple's suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records and have little regard for worker health.
CEO Cook Speaks Out
Apple CEO Tim Cook responded to the Times reports in an e-mail to employees that was obtained by 9to5Mac.
"As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple's values today, and I'd like to address this with you directly," Cook wrote.
"We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It's not who we are."
Cook said Apple inspects more factories every year, raising the bar for its partners and going deeper into the supply chain. He stressed that the company has made a "great deal of progress" and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers. He said he was convinced that no one in industry was doing as much as Apple in this regard.
"We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues," Cook wrote. "What we will not do -- and never have done -- is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word."
Logic of Capitalism
Labor issues aren't unique to the consumer electronics industry. Apparel makers, among others, have seen these issues arise over the years. Essentially, anyone who uses labor in China or in developing countries is potentially subject to the same critique, said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.
"Apple is getting lots of attention right now because it's such a successful, visible company. And Apple does seem to be responding to a degree. It's analogous to 'green' issues that Apple was contending with a few years ago," Sterling said. "The company was criticized by the press and NGOs for making computers that weren't environmentally friendly. In response it changed its products to be more 'sustainable.' "
Cook has taken some steps toward solving the problem, including releasing supplier lists and joining a fair-labor monitoring organization. Sterling believes Cook will take additional steps to rectify any labor exploitation, especially if the media keep up scrutiny. But there's a big "however" called capitalism that could get in the way.
"The whole logic of capitalism and the market is such that American corporations have incentives to make their products as cheaply as they can to grow and maximize margins," Sterling said. "This is what U.S. investors want: profitable companies with growing margins. That logic in part causes companies in part to move manufacturing to places in the world where the labor is very inexpensive and typically exploited."
Posted: 2012-01-28 @ 2:25pm PT
How does Tim Cook explain this, which is directly from the NY Times article:
"One former [Apple] executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
'The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,' the executive said. 'There’s no American plant that can match that.'"
So that's what the Republicans and the Formerly American Chamber of Commerce mean by a "flexible work force." COMPANY DORMITORIES?! How does that song, "16 Tons," go? "I owe my soul to the company [Apple] store."
Posted: 2012-01-27 @ 4:36pm PT
Multi-national companies are no longer good citizens of their communities because they are now stateless. It used to be that a company was a member of the community and you could identify a company as an American company or a German company, etc but now they are looking for the cheapest labor, the least restrictive environmental regulations, no unions, or whatever local situation they can exploit.
The problem is that we don't want the kind of America it takes to compete on that stage. The only way to beat that system is with innovation and a great education system but American universities are giving that away too. We need to protect our innovations and the industries they produce or our best export will be the misery we inflict on workers in China and the rest of the developing world. Read more at www.china-threat.com