This blogger doesn't really have time to do justice to the most important business story of the week - but it's Charles Duhigg and David Barboza's New York Times expose of workplace conditions at factories making popular Apple gadgets in China that published on January 25.
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.
One almost wonders if all of the former Apple employees who were quoted anonymously due to confidentiality agreements waited until Steve Jobs had died to spill the beans on all of the detail the reporters were able to uncover.
Those quotes, which demonstrate unequivocally that the famously progressive, liberal-loved corporation's leaders knew about working conditions Americans would consider inhumane at their suppliers and at best did nothing and in general did what they could to make it worse.
This is one of the nicer ones.
“You can set all the rules you want, but they’re meaningless if you don’t give suppliers enough profit to treat workers well,” said one former Apple executive with firsthand knowledge of the supplier responsibility group. “If you squeeze margins, you’re forcing them to cut safety.”
You need to read the whole thing - and it prints at 14 pages off the Times' website - to truly understand the impact but the reporters diligently undermine what would be the standard rejoinders to a story like this that alleges harm at a third party.
"We didn't know," shot down by those insider quotes, "we tried to fix the situation once we knew," ditto, "everybody does it," the reporters came up with examples of other companies boosting their suppliers margins to offset safety costs, and so on.
This blog is not so naive as to expect developing countries to adopt Western codes of conduct when they are still trying to grow. That's not how the West developed and things will always be a little rougher until there is more wealth around. However, this story came out the same week that Apple reported a cash hoard of almost $100 billion sitting on its books. Without raising prices, cutting a dividend or affecting its own compensation at all, Apple has the resources to fix this problem. Jobs and his successors just didn't want to.
This blogger also often takes issue with reflexively anti-enterprise coverage in The New York Times. That's why it is even more important to take note when they publish an article where they set out to take down a corporate icon, and nail the company over and over again with well-source facts and not just thinly disguished opinions bridging from their own prejudice.
The Times' story is business journalism practiced at its highest level. It should win the Pulitzer this year.