I am tired of reading newspaper articles and random commentaries about Apple’s problems in China. The situation is complex, and most people don’t fully “get” it.
One person who “gets” it, though, is Richard Brubaker, Founder of Shanghai-based Collective Responsibility. I just read Interview: Richard Brubaker on Why Apple’s Problems Go Beyond Foxconn on the Asia Society website, and I am reproducing some excepts below.
Is Apple just unlucky to be under the media spotlights? No, there are 3 good reasons why they are going through this PR crisis:
1. Apple is behind (they are only now investing in third-party audits and building supplier inspections teams), the problems are specific to Apple (iPad factory explosions and Wintek poisoning), and Apple is defiant (always saying they hold the “highest standards”).
2. Apple’s model. Unlike Nokia, Motorola and others, Apple is 100 percent outsourced, so they are going to naturally be exposed to more issues.
3. Apple is the largest technology company in the world, with the strongest brand recognition, and makes a billion USD a week in profit.
Why are we all talking about Foxconn, and not about Apple’s other suppliers?
By focusing on Foxconn and admitting there are problems at Foxconn, Apple is able to protect themselves. Were this story about their entire supplier network, or about the wider abuses that occur at suppliers specific to Apple, then Apple would have a far bigger PR/operations problem to solve.
Is Apple responsible for the labor conditions in their Chinese suppliers’ factories?
Legally, Apple is not (under U.S. or Chinese law) directly responsible for the conditions that exist at a supplier’s site. Apple and its supporters are correct in saying that in the strictest legal sense they are not responsible. However, and this is where it gets more complicated, just because Apple is not “responsible” does not mean that it cannot be held responsible legally.
Using the Wintek case as one example, or perhaps the more recent Foxconn iPad factory explosion: If it could be proven that Apple had known that the conditions were unsafe and did not act, then there is room for legal responsibility to enter. Which is why Wintek looked to Apple for compensation, and why Apple did engage those affected. Even though no settlement has been reached.
You can read the rest of the article here.