Apple and China: The Only Choice?

Like most consumer electronics companies, Apple relies heavily on Chinese factories. In America, the company has been getting heat for enjoying tremendous success (especially during a recession) and not supporting U.S. factory workers. A recent NY Times article reveals that Apple believes that the efficiency and flexibility of Chinese factories can’t be beat. Check out the illuminating details below.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

A noted economist added that times have changed and American companies no longer feel an obligation to support American workers. Instead, it’s all about profits and pleasing shareholders:

‘Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice,’ said Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September. ‘That’s disappeared. Profits and efficiency have trumped generosity.’

While I understand that money makes the world go round and Apple has an obligation to its shareholders, I have to question if the company really has no choice. Foxconn has been criticized for treating its workers unfairly. You know there’s a problem when a company has its employees on suicide watch and has installed safety nets to curb suicide jumpers. That’s…not normal.

At the same time, American factory workers enjoy much greater wages and benefits than their Chinese counterparts. Using American factories to make parts and assemble goods would cut into profit margins and most likely increase the price of Apple products.

Whether Apple should increase its commitment to American workers is highly debatable. Using a company like Foxconn is the tougher question. Nationalism is one thing. Human rights is another entirely.

How do you feel about these issues? Should Apple make an effort to use American workers at the expense of profit margins? Should Apple look for alternative factories outside of the Guangzhou region? Please leave your thoughts on the matter in the comments section.

[Via: NY Times article]