Marketplace looks at the Apple economy in China [the broken link was removed]. Marketplace is an excellent source of actual journalism; rare in the post Bill Moyers days, sadly.
A look inside a Foxconn factory< [the broken link was removed]
The first misconception I had about Foxconn’s Longhua facility in the city of Shenzhen was that I’ve always called it a ‘factory’ — technically, it is. But after you enter the gates and walk around, you quickly realize that it’s also a city — 240,000 people work here. Nearly 50,000 of them live on campus in shared dorm rooms. There’s a main drag lined on both sides with fast-food restaurants, banks, cafes, grocery stores, a wedding photo shop, and an automated library. There are basketball courts, tennis courts, a gym, two enormous swimming pools, and a bright green astroturf soccer stadium smack-dab in the middle of campus. There’s a radio station — Voice of Foxconn — and a television news station. Longhua even has its own fire department, located right on main street. This is not what comes to mind when you think “Chinese factory.”
Yet it is: as you walk beyond the civic center of Longhua, the buildings begin to change.
[the embedded video was removed, so I removed the link]
From a management perspective there is a great deal to be desired in Apple’s manufacturing practices. The economic perspective however, for me, provides a much different picture than those in rich countries (USA, Europe, Singapore, Japan…) often feel.
The jobs provide workers a chance to earn what for them is a great deal of money. Yes the conditions are harsh – I wouldn’t want to have to work there. But I am pretty sure I would not be happier, if I lived in China, and everything else remained the same in China except now all the Apple products were made in Singapore, USA and Spain.
It is good that Apple has pressure to improve conditions at their plants. I also wish they would adopt more lean thinking in their management system. Doing so would likely include moving production to at least 2 or 3 locations (probably adding the Americas and Europe while remaining in China). Apple pays a great deal of attention to customer focus (though they still have plenty to do here too); they really need to pay much more attention to respect for employees (I include their sub-contractors in this statement).
The market is also working. Chinese salaries are rising rapidly. From a very low wage, but still rapidly which is a great thing for tens of millions of people. And there are huge economic spillover affects as those people spend and invest their money (as one of the workers was quoted as saying he is saving up money while working at Foxconn to open his own construction business).
Related: Apple’s Impossibly Good Quarter – You’ve Got to Find What You Love to Do, Steve Jobs – Sometimes Micro-managing Works – China Becomes World’s Largest Manufacturer in 2010