A lot of people have asked for my take on The New York Times piece yesterday about the true cost of making Apple products in China. Let me first just say that it’s an important piece full of good reporting by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza. Parts of it are very sad — sickening, really.
But let’s be honest. The post focuses on Apple because Apple is now arguably the most successful company on the planet. If they were, say, the 8th largest computer manufacturer, they probably wouldn’t have even been mentioned. Again, that’s not to say it shouldn’t have been written — it absolutely should have — but it’s important to keep that in mind.
The real key here is that this story could have been written about any number of technology companies that have to deal with hardware manufacturing. This sad state of affairs is the way the world works in this space. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive.
Does that excuse Apple’s behavior in some situations? Not at all. But there also isn’t enough background here to know if Apple is even the worst enabler of these poor working conditions. That’s sort of implied a few times in the piece, but never fully backed up.
My TechCrunch colleague Devin Coldewey wrote a great response to the piece. As he writes:
Something the article only fleetingly acknowledges is that Foxconn is used by most of the major electronics brands in the world. Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon, and the rest all contract with Foxconn to manufacture, assemble, or finish their products. The threatened mass suicide the other week was, in fact, at an Xbox production facility.
So it has never been a surprise to me when I hear that Apple, and others, only do so much to change the situation in factories and factory towns in China. The simple fact of it is they’re not the ones at the reins. Foxconn and China have our all-important tech companies by the scruff of the neck, and bear the big bad audits by Apple (more likely by people representing people representing Apple) like they’d bear a kitten swiping at their face. It’s a high stakes game, and Foxconn and its like hold all the cards.
That’s something important that the NYT never addresses. The situation is decidedly more complicated than Apple simply turning a blind eye.
While this report brings such an issue to the forefront, similar pieces and stories surface quite frequently, actually. Guess what changes? Nothing. It’s shitty to say, but it’s the truth. And we all know it.
The fact of the matter is that we live in a world that demands amazing technology delivered to us at low costs and at great speed. That world leads to Foxconn.
We say we care about the means by which the results are reached when we read stories such as this one. But then we forget. Or we chose not to remember. We buy things and we’re happy that they’re affordable. And then we buy more things. And more. With huge smiles on our faces. Without a care in the world.