Foxconn and Apple V Republic of China:
As the New York Times slates Apple over their apparent lack of duty of care to workers at China’s Foxconn production plant within Apples enormous supply chain, and with Tim Cook coming out to defend all things Apple, as you would.
Can we all perhaps learn from this current upsurge in “Apple the bad man” talk?
When your at the top of the tree your easier to spot:
Yes we all know that any corporation, music act, TV show, etc that either courts the limelight or simply happens to be centre of attention in their industry and therefore often appears seemingly omnipresent while their crowning glory lasts, will attract critics.
One of the main reasons this happens is this, it sells papers and gets eyeballs.
China love to play with the big boys:
The truth may also lie in how a company gets to be so big, and this is where the murky waters of speculation crop up.
In the modern world, corporations such as Apple have choices on how to go about doing all parts of their production process right through to the sale and packaging of the goods they peddle us.
But what is perhaps unclear to so many of us who are not involved in acquisition, procurement, international trade, HR, logistics, marketing, hi tech manufacturing etc is just what choices we have in that massive selection process that ultimately produces an iPad or an iPhone.
What is clear to many is that China would appear to come out tops as the place to go for the mass manufacture of specialist technology, at least this was what we all believed until China started to flex its muscle a little, and scare some companies with its attitude to workers rights.
Now when you have a country the size of China, I for one am under no doubt that a form of dictatorship is probably the best way to be able to effectively manage such a vast amount of people, but I am unsure exactly what kind of “dictatorship” really exists in China.
China as cost effective as we think?
One thing is for sure, where once China was highly competitive to obtain cheap manufacturing in an outsourcing sense, I now know from first hand after looking into the cost of outsourcing work myself that after all associated costings and risks are taken into account, doing business with China is a lot less attractive than I once thought.
Now imagine having a publicly available ethics policy (other wise know as the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct) to ensure all suppliers were held to account to some degree, now this would add another layer of risk.
I am not for one minute saying that all Chinese manufacturing plants operate under barbaric conditions, I have no idea first hand whatsoever, but it would appear from reading around the lines that some would possibly be classed as less than perfect when ethics and workers rights are taken into consideration.
China in 2012 = UK in 1800’s
But you know what, this is China in its ascent, and here in the West we all have to take stock and look at what we here in the UK and the US have done globally to ensure we are competitive in marketplaces over the last 100 years in terms of a “get our own way” attitude we lead the world in barbaric acts and underhand tactics, we effectively teach the world to screw morals.
I am from the mill areas of the north of England and the stories that can be told of hate filled mill owners are possibly best left forgotten but are numerous.
This was in the days when we were the engine room of the world, and with China taking over that role and the west moving towards a knowledge and service based economy, where does that leave us when bottom lines need to be addresses and our shiny western corporations need to compete with other foreign upstarts?
It has to be seen as pretty rich when we come along and expect all countries we deal with to operate exactly as we want, when we have the benefit of massive GDP’s ensuring that 100 year old strategies and policies (fought and won) to gain supposedly better working practices are put in place.
So where does this leave Apple?
Now I am sure Apple have some pretty lucrative deals going on with their suppliers such as Foxconn, but where does that leave the Cupertino company if things start altering within the suppliers hierarchy and at what point do the Government of China step in to look into suspected employment issues for foreign companies who work out of China like Foxconn who are Taiwan based?
There is definitely some dodgy ground to be potentially navigated when looking to build a company that extol the virtues of high morals and yet wants to keep production costs down and as low as possible while still selling their products at premium prices on the basis of quality and a certain ethic that Apple proclaim they stand for.
Indeed as the article in the New York Times states, there are a number of areas that have more power than Apple currently has:
1 – Foxconn
2 – The Republic Of China
3 – The Consumer
So with all those variables in place (which are not unique by any means) Apple do need to ensure that they tread a path of pleasing a lot of entities all at once which can be very tough when you rely on foreign highly skilled workers and high tech plants which operate in very different conditions to what they would perhaps like them to do, but then again come 50 years time it will all shift anyway and we will see US and UK workers doing China’s and India’s bidding…..perhaps.
On the topic of China and the way Chinese industry treats their own staff who work for non foreign entities, one commentator Helena discussing the New York Times article states:
“In China, Foxconn is quite proper already. They don’t delay wages and provide insurance. A lot of people attack Foxconn for fun, but how do domestic factories treat workers? Some barely make enough to survive after working for months. They can’t get pay, and are fired for being pregnant. Our countrymen are so strict with foreigners, but can let our own misbehave.”
And some lay the blame at the Chinese government more than Apple:
A Caixin reader writes:
“While Apple’s supervision is important, the government’s supervision is key, because they should play the role of carrying out the law.”
Either way I think it is tough to slate one company when there are so many variables, and this is perhaps where the potential for Apples downfall could very easily stem from.Anthony Munns