Feb 222012


No one? Well, as a mindless fanboy, it’s my duty to throw out some irrelevant facts in an attempt to obfuscate the reality of Apple’s horrible labor practices in China.

One of the arguments upon which the current toxicity of anti-Apple venom is based is that Apple releases products that are so utterly compelling (yet not really, but we’ve all been duped into main-lining whatever the company produces) at such a breakneck pace that we can’t help but toss our old kit in favor of the One More Thing. If that’s a strike against Apple, it’s a game’s worth of outs against their competitors. In 2011, Apple released the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2. Apple’s competitors were a little more aggressive: both HTC and Motorola released 5 shartphones; Samsung released 12.  HTC released the Flyer tablet, Motorola introduced 2 versions of their XYBoard tablet, while Samsung put out 3 major versions of the Galaxy Tab.

2011 also marked major operating system releases for Android and iOS. iOS 5, released in October, will run just fine on a 2009 iPhone 3GS. Google also released its v4 of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, when it announced its third “Google phone”, the Galaxy Nexus in October. Adoption of the Android 4.0 has somewhat lagged  behind its iPhone counterparts: 40% of all iPhones run iOS 5; around 1% of all Android phones run Android 4.0. But all the manufacturers and carriers have plans to upgrade…most…of their phones, so that’ll totally change any day now.

So on the one hand we have a manufacturer that releases one version of its smartphone and tablet offerings per year and offers OS upgrades instantly to phones they made over 2 years ago. On the other hand, we have manufacturers that vomit multiple versions of their shartphones and tablets into the market every year. The vast majority of these phones and tablets ship with out-of-date operating systems and the total adoption of their most current version is a rounding error.

I guess you don’t get to be a focus of scrutiny if your shit doesn’t sell, never mind all the models you fling at the wall in an attempt to get them to stick. But maybe all the criticism is directed at Apple because all of these other manufacturers do such a good job monitoring their supply chains. Let’s take a look at Apple’s chief competitor, Samsung.

Forging through Samsung’s “About Us” pages to find anything about supply chain reporting – the kind with actual numbers – was kind of an adventure. To Samsung’s credit, the pictures are much prettier than the ones you’ll find in their financial reporting. They have an “ethics charter”.

It comes with its own emblem, which should be standard for all Ethics Charters, IMO:

Samsung Sells Shartphones Assembled by the Seashore

What it doesn’t present is a lot of data about its third-party suppliers. One document  that does look promising is its comprehensive Sustainability Report (pdf), especially the part about “Major Questions” that lists the categories of queries made of the company from stakeholders.

 Looks like we’re getting to the heart of the tough issues Samsung has to address on a regular basis. Let’s see…where’s page 28?

So…how about Foxconn? China? Guess that’s not really a focus of the report – at all.  Of course, this only reflects one reading of the 88-page report. It could be in there somewhere. There’s also no mention of a partnership with the Fair Labor Association. Guess we’ll have to trust that Samsung makes sure its partners do the right thing, despite there not being any quantitative evidence supporting it. But hey: if pretty pictures and socially responsible corp-speak do it for you, Samsung totally nailed it.

It’s also rather telling that in an industry that seizes upon any strategic advantage it can get against Apple (the XOOM offers the FULL INTERNET with FLASH!), the other companies using Foxconn have been strangely silent regarding Apple’s labor practices. Wouldn’t you want to milk that black mark for everything you could? Well, I guess you would if you wanted people to start asking – in ways that can’t be answered with colorful charts and mission statements – about your commitment to supply chain ethics.

As is the case with a lot of issues – from user privacy to responsible management of the supply chain – Apple’s success makes it the subject of an inordinate amount of scrutiny. One of these days, maybe there will be some room under the microscope for other companies that use human capital in China to face more of the breathless accusations that seem to be reseved exclusively for Apple.

But I doubt it.

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