2014 Update: In looking at my old articles, I clearly didn’t exercise good headline judgment. The URL maintains the word “
slavery“, but I did change the headline. So, I apologize if I offended anyone. My point is that Foxconn workers, at least from the portrayal in the media, have little choice and few options. While they are there by choice, it is almost truly a situation where it is their only choice.
An article in the New York Times explains the reason why manufacturing the iPhone in United States will likely never happen 1:
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.
The speed and flexibility is breathtaking, the executive said. There’s no American plant that can match that.
The article goes on and explains that it is flexibility and NOT cost that makes China so competitive. With added commentary that the Middle Income in America will continued to get squeezed and eventually disappear, the article is overall very unoptomistic on the prospects of America being able to compete with China. Indeed, the article claims that flexibility of that type is unheard of and virtually impossible in America.
I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that this type of Taylorism and inhumane treatment of people is not allowed via government legislation. True, whenever the government steps in, lead time increases and costs also increase, but sometimes the price for liberty requires added precautions and boundaries that keep people from treating others inhumanely. Freedom has bounds.
In general, there are two things wrong with the New York Times article:
- It is celebrating
slaveryIndentured Servants is a more fair term. By claiming that flexibility will, in its current state and in the end, beat out America, the article is inadvertently celebrating slavery. If the price of flexibility for a company like Apple means that people work 14 hours and $17 a day and are woken up in the middle of the night and given a biscuit and tea to then work some more because of a last minute design change from Apple, then China wins on flexibility.
- Their definition of “flexibility” fails to acknowledge the power of Lean Manufacturing for last minute changes the article describes. In fact, lean manufacturing – properly applied and executed – shines in situations where there are last minute changes, provided the operation had Heijunka in place and was already operating on a single piece flow philosophy. But that approach doesn’t require people waking up in the middle of the night and slavery-like conditions. It requires a well-formed and designed operation built on the tenets of lean manufacturing.
Despite Apple’s Code of Conduct for suppliers, last minute design changes like the article describes will continue to “train” suppliers to treat their people badly. Indeed, Apple will continue to be demanding on the one hand, but making it almost impossible for suppliers to comply to its demands on the other.
- http://nyti.ms/AEHFOY ↩