By Kevin Meyer
The rumors are that Apple will be announcing the new iPad 3 on March 7th. For the first time in a few years I won't be one of the drooling Apple groupies standing in line for hours – or days – to get the latest Jobsonian creation.
I'm sure it will be great. The specs are incredible, and presumably just like other Apple devices it will continue to help many people work better. Bill and I may disagree on whether that's "innovation" but we agree on a fundamental aspect of the company itself. And this time that will override my desire for their latest product.
You reach a point where your moral compass overrides the desire for a great product. And that's where I am, and probably should have been sooner.
Apple has known about the problems at its outsourced Chinese factories for years. It pays lip service to solving the problems by doing audits and and sending out press releases reiterating how they are supposedly concerned about worker safety. Again and again. And nothing really changes.
Enough. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, it is time for something beyond just words, and with nearly $100 billion in the bank Apple could truly change the dynamic – if they wanted to. At a bare, relatively inexpensive, minimum they could have permanent observers in the factories. They could set deadlines and requirements for real change after which they would relocate manufacturing. They could invest a billion – pocket change to them – in innovating manufacturing to a level where the supposed "cost" of workers is no longer a concern. As if it ever was at their margins. But they didn't and they probably won't.
To be fair, it's not just Apple. Not by a long shot. The same situation exists with almost every company that chases "cheap labor" around the world. Just by nature of the mindset and traditional financial analysis that considers workers a "cost" rather than an asset, the drive will be to get more from less which inevitably leads to the issues we now see in China and elsewhere. Nike, Victoria's Secret, toys for the London Olympics, fish from Indonesia, and just today Johnson Controls – again in China.
Lean folks regularly talk about the importance of respect for people. Moral people talk about the importance of human dignity. It's time we live it, and really mean it. Some companies also claim to be lean and conveniently ignore that core component, and some companies that don't necessarily claim to be lean – like Apple – still tout that they are supposedly socially aware. And then they effectively condone the mistreatment of workers, year after year. It's time they shape up or ship out, and we let them know that we do consider it important.
For me, Apple sitting on $100 billion and paying Tim Cook $189,000 per hour while not doing anything real about the problem in its factories is just too much. They just lost a $700 sale. I realize it's not even a drop in the bucket, but perhaps others will feel the same way.