We all know Apple produces innovative products like iPod, iPhone & now iPad. But do you know the story behind the scenes? As recently as just a month ago, we had an employee at Apple losing the prototype of the latest iPhone. Read my review
on it if it interests you. Just this week, in Hong Kong's neighboring Chinese city, Shenzhen, where I’m temporary living, Apple is now associated with a worrying case in its iPad production factory where more than 10 workers have committed suicides within the compound of Foxconn
just this year alone. Foxconn is the Taiwanese supplier of iPad which bases its manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China. More than 300,000 workers are said to be working long hours with undesirable condition in this factory so much so that 12 have tried to take their lives in it!
The latest case happened just last Thursday. This is the 12th suicide and the 10th that ends in death since beginning of 2010. The 23-year old man fell to his death on May 26 and another (25-year old) tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists the next day. For more facts on the cases, here are 5 media reports that might interest you.
Foxconn’s clients include Apple, HP & Dell.
This review is not really about factory’s condition or workers’ plight. It is about what it entails being the supply chain of these giant companies in United States. It is about social responsibility and about what consumers need to know and about their parts in being consumers.
As the news in Hong Kong have been commenting on this case and having discussions over the air constantly, I feel it is my responsibility to shed some light to American consumers where many of you might be reading this online. The mainstream media doesn’t say much about what happened and what led to the psychology and sociology behind these suicides. No one knows for sure other than these workers were and are facing conditions which no Americans would even imagine or think about. For the details, please read the articles mentioned above.
When some of the reporters and radio commentators explore further, there is one fact which I think some of you might have known. It had happened before with Starbucks, Nestle, and still happening with Walmart. The fact that your “made in china” goods come so cheaply at the expense of these workers. The claim, and I’ve heard it on one of the Hong Kong radio channels, that, mark my word… for every iPad that’s being manufactured, the cost that is being paid to the manufacturer is US$12!!! Yes, you paid $499, they get paid $12 for making it!
If you think you can now afford these cool machines, it comes at a price. The cost of some human lives! I think regardless of what causes the problem or is at the root of the problem, it’s been known all over the world that other than the low cost of labor in China, factories are made to compete with one another in order to secure the order. It is not uncommon and it is not unthinkable. How do you think Walmart got so big and so profitable? Granted, the first reaction is that people will blame it on China. But, on second thoughts and on further investigation, it’s been commonly known that American corporations are bent on maximizing profit. If China cannot lower cost, they will go somewhere else. Perhaps India, Mexico, Brazil or even Vietnam. We all know how much profit maximization and bottom line figures in all corporations, be it America or elsewhere.
Now, the question arises when it filters all the way down its supply chain. The thing is for these corporations to be socially responsible like what Starbuck did with its coffee beans. We cannot have rock-bottom prices for products and services at the expense of other human beings. That is just not right. I do not agree with Apple trying to maximize its market share by victimizing others in the process, be it consciously or not. Yes, it might be the responsibility of the Taiwanese company but $12 out of $499? That’s just incredible! What do the Americans take the Chinese for? Cheap labor and slavery? Oh, I apologize if I over-reacted. But, until you face poverty, you never quite know what it looks like. When traveling in America, I had often seen large plates of food simply wasted just because it didn’t taste so great. Often enough. Yet, there are hundreds of millions of people in China who has to go work in these factories or in construction jobs simply because if they stay home, there is no food on the table for them. No matter what the condition of work, a job is a job and there are tons of people queuing for it. When one is competing against hundreds of millions of others, life is hard. A 260 job opening may end up with 26,000 applicants for it, and by that, I mean those who are at least graduates! Hence, it is not unimaginable how much a job is treasured in this country. We, the lucky few, wants a job we love or enjoy. Others in China are grateful that they even have a job, regardless of what that job is. And I’m not limiting to blue-collar workers. Even graduates are in abundant supply in this country. Every year, over 4 millions of new graduates are generated. That’s about the size of the entire population of Singapore! If you think you can compete in this environment, you haven’t known the reality of life yet. Many people in China are earning less than $100 a month! That is sad enough. But to have major leading corporations take advantage of them simply to satisfy Wall-Street analysts and investors, that’s as shameful as it gets!
Yes, corporations compete on the global arena and funds compete based on ROE. For countries which espouse human rights and improving human conditions, it is not enough merely for governments and activitsts to do their parts. Corporations and consumers need to be equally responsible. As with cheap oil as a source of energy and cheap labor as a component of cost, they have far-reaching consequences which each and every one of us should keep in mind and in check!
P.S. It is not unknown in the business and IT world how secretly Apple has guarded its innovations and creations so much so to the extent of many employees being under strict controls when working within the organization. That's clearly Apple mode of operation. I don't question an organization's inner workings. That's under the pretext that one can walk away from a job. However, in many cases in other parts of the world and also in China's context, the circumstances for some people are not so flexible. And the worst culprit is one who takes advantage of that circumstance. It is not just Foxcoon's responsibility in this case, I feel. It is also Apple's responsibility to ensure it adhere's to a higher principle and not just one of commercialization. Otherwise, sooner or later, there will be plenty of activists calling for a boycott of its products! This is something which Apple as a leading company needs to address.
(A Lunch Featured Review)