Apple CEO Tim Cook visits the Foxconn plant in China as part of the review process to insure working conditions have improved and Apple vendor requirements are being adhered to (Click Image To Enlarge)
When Apple makes headlines for its manufacturing practices, it’s rarely a headline that makes Cupertino look good. The company has come under fire in the past year for its reliance on the manufacturing giant Foxconn, which had a string of suicides at one of its plants, and where there have occasionally been reports of unsafe working conditions. The New York Times, for instance, wrote an investigative report into the “human costs” of the iPad back in January; iPhone manufacture even became the unlikely subject of a controversial, and ultimately discredited, work of quasi-reported theater (see “Mike Daisey, Storyteller,” and “An (Actual!) Look Inside Foxconn”). But for those who thought Apple would continue to exclusively rely on manufacturing abroad, Apple CEO made a surprising announcement on “Rock Center with Brian Williams” today. Starting in 2013, said Cook, a line of Macs would be manufactured in the US. Cook did not elaborate or specify just which line.
The announcement followed recent reports that some of the new iMacs that went on sale last Friday bore the unusual words, “Assembled in USA.” In the past, it has been more typical to see “Assembled in China”–though not uncommon for certain products, like made-to-order Macs.
In a way, Cook’s announcement is not totally surprising; at the All Things D conference in May, he had announced that he wanted a product to be made in the U.S. It would seem like the recent “assembled in USA” lines are a step in that direction, and that Cook is planning to deepen that commitment.
A good deal more information about Cook’s thinking in this regard can be found in Bloomberg Businessweek, which published a lengthy interview with Cook this week. Cook pointed out (as he did to Brian Williams) that both the processor and the glass on iPhones and iPads are made in the U.S. (See “Your iPhone’s Brain Might Be from Texas.”) And he clarified that when he says he’d like to “make” Macs in the US, he’s talking about more than assembly:
“It will happen in 2013. We’re really proud of it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it’s broader because we wanted to do something more substantial. So we’ll literally invest over $100 million. This doesn’t mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we’ll be working with people, and we’ll be investing our money.”
A follow-up question on whether Apple had a duty to be patriotic elicited a thoughtful response: Cook said that he felt Apple did have a “responsibility to create jobs.” He appeared to outline a philosophy that suggested that Apple had that responsibility, indeed, wherever it sold its products:
“Over 60 percent of our sales are outside the United States. So we have a responsibility to others as well.”
He chooses a more hollistic way of measuring job creation, which means that he considers a person who makes a living as an iOS developer to have had a job created by Apple, even if that person is working for herself. (Again in its iEconomy series, the Times has shown how making that living is sometimes easier said than done.) The Businessweek interview is required reading in full for anyone interested in Tim Cook, Apple, and the future of American manufacturing.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg also reports that Foxconn itself will be expanding some of its manufacturing operations into North America, due to demand among customers that more products be made domestically.
COMMENTARY: It will be a very long time before I trust anything that Apple says concerning its manufacturing vendors in China. For over a decade, under the steady iron hand of then Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, Apple did everythig to keep the identity of its overseas vendors in China absolutely secret. Nobody knew who they were until word got out of the numerous plant worker suicides at Foxconn International, the sweatshop conditions endured by its plant workers, and unsafe working environment that hundreds of thousands of Foxconn plant workers were exposed to. Foxconn is Apple's largest outsourced manufacturer in China, and is responsible for assembling the iPhone, iPod and iPad. In 2010,when the late Steve Jobs was questioned by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisherabout from All Things Digital about Foxconn in front of a live audence at a D8 conference in San Francisco, he said,
"Oh, sure, yeah. We're pretty on top of that. Foxconn is not a sweatshop. When you go to this place, um. It's a factory, but my gosh, they got restuarants, and movie theaters and swimming pools. For a factory, it's a pretty nice factory."
What pissed me off about the Steve Jobs interview is how Jobs discounted the Foxconn suicides, comparing them on a percentage basis to the suicide rates in the U.S. Jesus, what a heartless punkass. I didn't hear a single comment of remorse or condolesences to the loved ones and families of those who committed suicide. His comments were without any emotion, almost unremorseless. That interview is below:
I have written nearly a dozen blog posts relating to Foxconn International, and through my efforts and the news media in general, Apple is finally taking actions and measures to improve working conditions and tightened controls at all of its outsourced overseas vendors. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to read all my blog posts about Foxconn International: October 12, 2011, October 15, 2011, November 7, 2011, January 31, 2012, March 3, 2012, March 29, 2012, March 30, 2012, April 2, 2012, August 14, 2012, September 25, 2012, and November 16, 2012.
In a blog post dated November 16, 2012, I reported that Foxconn International had plans to replace 1.2 million plant workers in China with production robots. This process has already begun, with 30,000 robots expected to be installed by the end of 2012, and another 200,000 robots to be installed in 2013. Having said this, it would not surprise me if Apple automates the prouction of an iMac using robots in order to keep costs down. If Tim Cook is serious about proucting an iMac in the U.S., I wonder if Apple will be a job creator, or job destroyer.
Courtesy of an article dated December 6, 2012 appearing in MIT Technology Review