Devil’s in the details indeed

Meant to post this awhile back but I’ve been letting it simmer

A post by Mark Vaske re: the Times’s article:

The NYT’s article was released at an opportunistic time journalistically speaking after a record quarter and something that is probably historically significant. It reported years old events and figures.

Would it have been more journalistically responsible of them to not do their research of Apple’s history with its suppliers?

And should NYT have waited for Apple to have a down quarter before they publish this? Would that have made you less concerned about them being opportunistic? Every quarter is Apple’s best quarter.

What baffles me is that the most recent Foxconn news had been about an Xbox manufacturing portion of the plant saying it was going to commit mass suicide, but that has gotten relatively little press at the current time, but some press all the same. This seems very familiar to the explosion last May that got covered but it didn’t get the scrutiny that the current piece is getting.

Okay, so you’re upset that the incident which did get press coverage when it happened no longer deserves coverage now that it’s been awhile since it happened and people have since then discovered that the explosion was more than just a freak accident, but the result of carelessness symptomatic of the supplier’s pressure from Apple to churn out more iPads at rock bottom prices?

Those who are experiencing cognitive dissonance over old news that did not experience it at the time of when it was actually news have on blinders and must be spoon fed their opinions.

Or they’re just rational human beings who aren’t prone to being partisan and are able to change their stance on an issue given new facts (the facts, in this case, being that the explosion was completely preventable and it wasn’t prevented because Apple negotiates so hard that no supplier can afford to be up to snuff).

If you don’t like how something is produced, and you cannot stand for it, then don’t buy those products.

A good company doesn’t need a boycott or the threat of a boycott to change its mind. Like a rational human, a good company will change its course given new information and input from customers. As opaque as Apple might seem compared to most companies we encounter, Apple is quite receptive to its customers’ input.  This pressure has an impact.

Remember back when Steve Jobs was convinced that the iPhone didn’t need native apps? If not for the iOS SDK we wouldn’t be having a conversation about Apple’s massive supply chain because they surely would have faded into obscurity.

I don’t think we should necessarily look at these events and turn a blind eye and not try to constantly do better, but I don’t think that is the case anyway.

Yet here you are writing a blog post expressing your rage that NYT has the nerve to try to tell the world that Apple could stand to treat its suppliers better and ought to try harder to make workers’ conditions better.

Another thing that bothers me is that the Times’ piece quoted an ex-Foxconn Executive who was suing the company. Where do you think his bias and favor lie…?

That’s not bias. The fact that this exec left the company he’s now suing for some wrongdoing doesn’t make the article biased. If the ex-exec now worked for a competing company that would benefit from Foxconn’s reputation being damaged, that’s bias. But if this exec was indeed wronged and is in the process of litigation, he’s not biased, he just has an opinion on the matter.

I’ll be the first to admit I find it annoying that journalists piggyback off of Apple’s popularity to try to get their articles more traffic. I am on record complaining about Greenpeace using Apple as a scapegoat for poor environmental practices despite Apple being a leader in this arena in many ways (Apple has since risen in Greenpeace’s rankings). This is a piece of investigative journalism that looks at a series of events that have happened over the years regarding Apple. Apple publishes possibly the most thorough supplier responsibility progress reports I have seen in the industry, but the interviews with those close to the matter revealed in this article paint a wholly different picture, and that disparity angers me and it should anger customers as well. Yes, there is going to be an inherent leaning against Apple given that the interviews are from those who left Apple.  After all, there’s some reason they left Apple.  It isn’t the responsibility of NYT to spell out the biases; a smart reader should be able to see this and understand it.

Is the NYT article trying to take advantage of Apple’s success by publishing it at this time to try to get more views? That’s a pretty serious accusation to make (and Mark did make it). This is a pretty well thought out article, not some piece of linkbait. It clearly was put together over some weeks and many interviews. Sure, it was published shortly after Apple reported record earnings, but nobody was surprised at Apple’s earnings. Apple was a hugely profitable and valuable company the day before the earnings call and are just as successful after. Apple is a highly talked about company no matter what day it is, and has been even more popular since iPhone was announced in 2007. There’s little to be gained from timing the article around the shareholder earnings report. Finally, the timing of the article more logically happens to come shortly after a much more relevant release by Apple, and that is the publishing of their supplier responsibility progress report.

NYT also offered another perspective on the matter in an earlier article as well.

As an aside, I think it’s also important to note that although work conditions in these Chinese factories are poor by American standards and absolutely should be improved, the situation now is an improvement for people over their lives before. Working at a Foxconn facility nets workers far better wages than living on the countryside. Foxconn workers are earning better salaries than their competitors’ counterparts, and while any workplace fatality is unfortunate, the fatality rates are low in factories and suicide rates are statistically low (although when your workers are committing suicide it’s not good PR to point at your favorable suicide rates even if you are mathematically correct).

I know that conditions in China will improve gradually, but I’m bothered by this notion that people think that because Apple has done a lot to make conditions relatively better that customers are somehow in the wrong to tell Apple that they could try harder. I’m upset by blog posts like this one that accept factory work as something that necessarily has to be sucky and that nothing can possibly change it.  Factory work may not be the most fun thing ever, but you’re kidding yourself as a morally sound human being if you think it’s okay to be fine with not improving it. And of all the companies who can improve it, Apple is perhaps better positioned than any other company in the world to effect change, because they are so incredibly profitable.  If we can’t expect the most valuable company in the world to pay factory workers better for fewer working hours, then we’re definitely going to struggle to expect the factories in businesses that are a lot more competitive to step up as well.

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