Apple chief executive Tim Cook did a little company PR this week -- after meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing -- by visiting Foxconn Technology Group’s new iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, China. Cook, in a yellow factory coat and cap, was seen smiling as he watched and talked with Apple supply-chain employees Wednesday.
Foxconn is an integral part of Apple's supply chain, assembling most of its iPhones and iPads, but has been plagued by worker suicides and accusations of tough working conditions, Reuters reported. A report by the New York Times also alleged working conditions violations.
Cook's response to the negative working conditions found in article was to say that Apple will be "focused on educating workers about their rights, so they are empowered to speak up when they see unsafe conditions or unfair treatment." (As if workers who are so depressed and powerless that they want to commit suicide should be told it's their responsibility to tell off their bosses. Nice passing the buck.)
Apple also joined the Fair Labor Association earlier this year and opened up the factories to a Washington-based group after complaints by human rights organizations. The group found “tons of issues,” while also seeing “dramatic” improvements, FLA Chief Executive Officer Auret van Heerden said last month, Bloomberg reported.
Apple does appear to be watching its supply-chain factories closer, finding overtime and environmental infractions at a number of the companies in China. Foxconn has also raised base pay for junior workers by 25 percent.
“Apple has had a string of negative publicity this year with Foxconn factory issues,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting Ltd., a Beijing-based market research firm. “Apple is trying to demonstrate how seriously they take these issues, and how strong their commitment is to China.”
We doubt the visit is anything more than goodwill and PR, especially since the photos showed a rare smiling Tim Cook, even if the smile looked a little plastered. Cook also is doing something Jobs never did -- visit China.
Of course, the stakes are much higher for Apple now and it must keep Chinese officials and the press at home satisfied that its doing everything in its power to make working conditions better at its Chinese iPhone and iPad plants. That likely means sending the CEO to China and shaking hands.