It’s old news, yet Apple haters still argue with me, that Apple runs sweatshops in China, where workers regularly commit suicide, are paid slave wages, and child labor is rampant. The memes were repeated so often that the lore became reality to the uninformed. None of this was true, but like every story, there was enough going on, that an industrious so-called journalist with an agenda, could start a fire storm. And that’s exactly what happened with Apple and their affiliation with Foxconn.
The truth is, that there were suicides, and managers did put up nets to thwart suicide attempts, and conditions in the plants and worker condos are different than what westerners might be used to. But the fact is, the suicide rate in these so-called sweatshops was actually lower than the general population. The mere fact that one has to argue the comparative norms, is a losing proposition.
When you are the most valuable company on the planet, as Apple is, the company will naturally be the target of reporters, or anyone that can benefit from viewers to their online rag. And the more sensational the story, and the bigger the target, the more eyeballs the reporters can attract to their website. Eyeballs equals money.
The issue that evolved from this is the treatment of workers, regardless of the fact that they were not directly employed by Apple, and regardless of the fact that Apple wasn’t the only US company engaging these suppliers. Apple is the biggest, so they are the natural scapegoat to push the social agenda…that Apple had a responsibility to ensure that workers used to produce Apple products were treated well above local Chinese standards, and even above our own U.S. standards.
Apple at first was defensive, then realized very quickly that being defensive was not the right strategy. It made Apple appear guilty and weak. So under the leadership of Tim Cook, Apple went full-on the offensive. But not with a PR campaign, rather with real action and tangible programs, that are making a real difference.
What Apple did is require suppliers to become partners with Apple, to become part of the team, and Apple has a deep rooted value system when it comes to teams. At the pinnacle of their team philosophy is shared responsibility and accountability, at the base is trust. And this is what Apple is requiring of suppliers, to become part of the Apple family, to become part of the team. Check out the Apple Supplier Responsibility initiative on their website.
The program is comprehensive, and involves real commitment and action. It is based on the following principles; empowering workers, labor & human rights, health and safety, environment, and accountability. Download the 2014 progress report here: Apple 2014 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report.
Apple has trained 3.8 million workers on their rights since the program began, 1.5 million in 2013. They have created a program called Supplier Employee Education and Development (SEED) where they provide free courses on language skills, computers and other subjects, with the opportunity for supply chain workers to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
In my opinion, this should be the model for higher education for our nation, and across all industries. Colleges are too expensive, and don’t really prepare people for the real world. Who better to train and develop skilled workers, than the company that employs you? It’s in a companies self-interest to develop the best possible workers focused on the mission and goals of the company. It’s long been known that the best employees and leaders are not those hired and trained elsewhere, they are the people that come up through the ranks. Apple is a leader here, and hopefully a shining example of how other companies can achieve greatness too.
So, all this is good, really good, and I’m proud of Apple for what they have accomplished, and hope this initiative will spread throughout corporate America. But there’s a twist. And that is, in their magnanimous generosity for the underprivileged in other countries, Apple has given them something beyond the pale, while simultaneously snubbing their nose at companies here at home. I’m speaking of the recent bankruptcy of a local U.S. supplier named GT Advanced Technologies, a supplier of sapphire for Apple.
Apple extended a no-interest loan to GT for over 1/2 billion dollars to produce sapphire components for Apple over the next 5 years. GT was going to supply the display glass for the iPhone 6, until Apple decided that it wasn’t feasible, and so they dumped sapphire for Gorilla Glass, and called back the loan. This caused GT to file for bankruptcy, actually the reorganization version known as chapter 11.
News of Apple pulling sapphire from the iPhone sent GT stock reeling, but today’s bankruptcy, caused their stock to free fall. And there’s probably a good chance that GT will get delisted from the NASDAQ because of this.
Where’s the Apple love for GT? Is Apple responsible for the investors and workers and families of the workers of GT? Should Apple have provided a safety net, or os it all on GT. Should they have had the fore site to negotiate a better deal with Apple?
I know the situations between Foxconn and GT are night and day, but they are both Apple suppliers, and therefore there seems perhaps the Apple Supplier program needs some reform, to share the wealth with local companies too. Am I off base here? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting in any way that the government get involved in this, that would be too close to socialism for me, but what is in Apple’s best interest here. Should they be known as the company that can drop you as a supplier at any time, rip your heart out and throw you to the curb? Maybe I’m jumping the gun here and Apple has future plans for GT, but as of now, GT’s future looks bleak, and plenty of people could be out of work.