Last week I posted on the bizarre spectacle of Apple’s fanboys rallying to the defense of their favorite computer company on the occasion of a negative Daily Telegraph story on Apple’s safety, environmental, and labor record in China. To my surprise, the post generated a significant amount of traffic and – best of all – a really good, fan-boy free comment thread. I think the most interesting theme that emerges in the discussion is whether or not Apple has really accomplished anything by disclosing the failings of its suppliers. Supporters of Apple, obviously, think it’s worth noting positively; others (me included) see it more as a PR stunt that deflects attention from the company’s worsening record. Anyway, I wasn’t going to say much more about the topic, but this morning I woke to a new comment on the thread (#16), left by Jesse Covner who blogs at Taikongren’s Advice (based in Suzhou). It’s worth reading the entire comment thread, but it’s the last two paragraphs that I find most interesting, and which go far in answering some of the questions I’ve had on this subject in the last few days. In the first paragraph, Covner refers to Foxconn, one of Apple’s suppliers:
So getting back to Apple and Foxconn. Foxconn is a huge volume contract manufacture which offers lowest rates by strictly controlling costs and offering economies of scale. Meaning… less likely to hire good local managers. Less likely to invest enough in safety equipment. Less likely to look too closely at their vendors’ EHS compliance. This is the manufacturer which Apple choose. NOT every phone maker manufactures in this way. Nokia and Samsung have their own factories in China. They control their vendors better because of this. I believe that Motorola either has their own factory or uses long-time SOE vendors… but anyway, Motorola – the inventor of Six Sigma – gives extensive training to its vendors. [Shanghai Scrap note: I've been to Chinese facilities that supply Motorola and that don't - to put it lightly - meet Six Sigma.]
In the next paragraph, Covner makes a point that’s so obvious that it’s a wonder that nobody appears to have brought it up in the context of this discussion yet (willing to be corrected on this point, though).
Another thing to note from the article. “Apple said it had required the factories to “perform immediate inspections of their wastewater discharge systems” and hire an independent environmental consultant to prevent future violations.” [Covner is referring to the Daily Telegraph article which started the whole discussion, and the Apple compliance report upon which much of it based]. So Apple is not using their own inspectors to investigate. They are not paying this fee… they are requiring the vendors to hire their own inspector. That’s not how its supposed to work. The wastewater systems need to be certified by government approved inspectors. And since inspectors can (conceivably) be bribed, it should be Apple’s own Compliance Team which investigates.
Speaking for myself, and not Covner, this strikes me as a good answer to those who claim that Apple deserves credit for disclosing its own failings. That is to say, Apple’s efforts are worth taking seriously when it gets around to paying its own compliance team to do investigations and remediation – rather than relying on their suppliers to do it for them.
[UPDATE: That's it. New ground-rules that go like this: PR flacks are welcome to comment in defense of their employers and clients. However, PR flacks that post without identifying their employers or clients, and whom I can readily identify via their IP addresses, will be outed. You know who you are (two of your comments were just deleted), and y'all really ought to be smart enough to have a VPN or use tor, anyway. Sheesh.]