Steve Jobs, the American genius, is gone, but in the post-Jobs world there is trouble in IPad land. I knew something was amiss when I visited Hong Kong and front page news in the more liberal press there showed workers at Foxconn Technologies in Chengdu threatening mass suicide over working conditions and poor pay. Foxconn Technologies is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electronics, including many Apple products.
As western journalists and human rights activists investigated further they found that those Apple gadgets we have come to love are assembled in Chinese sweatshops where workers are forced to put in seven day work weeks of 14 hours a day. Not surprisingly, these semi-slaves are paid a pittance, so that Apple can sell its gadgets to American consumers at a modest cost.
When he was alive Steve Jobs never mentioned that he was running a sweatshop in China – all that mattered to his adoring following were his remarkable inventions. Most people who read the biography of Steve Jobs realized that with genius goes a downside, and in the case of Jobs it was temper tantrums, ruthless handling of subordinates and now the lack of a conscience when it comes to the outsourcing of his manufacturing process.
In a strange way by lifting the curtain on Apple’s Chinese dark side, the government of China is apparently rethinking its manufacturing model of cheap and expendable labor. Don’t expect any major changes soon, but in the long run the Chinese workers can be counted on to demand a bigger chunk of all that American money coming to China for electronic assembly.
As for the American consumer the result, again in the long run, may be higher prices for the Apple gadgets along with a better understanding of exactly what ” cheap labor” means and how it translates into low cost Apple products. No one should be surprised about the Apple business model, afterall this is the era of globalization and outsourcing of work to cheaper venues. But it is important to remember that Steve Jobs was a genius, not a saint and that Apple is a company, not a monastery.