It wasn’t long ago that products from Apple, perhaps the most recognizable name in electronics manufacturing around the world, were made entirely in America. This is not the case anymore. Now, almost all of the approximately 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads, and 59 million other Apple products sold yearly are manufactured overseas. This change represents more than 20,000 jobs directly lost by U.S. workers, not to mention more than 700,000 other jobs given to foreign companies in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. The loss is not temporary. As the late Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s iconic co-founder, told President Obama, “Those jobs aren’t coming back.” At first glance, the transfer of jobs from one workforce to another would seem to hinge on a difference in wages, but Apple shows this is an oversimplification. In fact, some say paying U.S. wages would add only $65 to each iPhone’s
expense, while Apple’s profits average hundreds of dollars per phone. Rather, and of more concern, Apple’s leaders believe the intrinsic characteristics of the labor force available to them in China—which they identify as flexibility, diligence, and industrial skills—are superior to those of
the U.S. labor force. Apple executives tell of shorter lead times and faster manufacturing processes in China that are becoming the stuff of company legend. “The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” one executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.” Another said, “We
shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers. The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” Because Apple is one of the most imitated companies in the world, this perception of an overseas advantage might suggest that the U.S. workforce needs to be better led, better trained, more effectively managed, and more motivated to be proactive and flexible. If U.S. (and western European) workers are less motivated and less adaptable, it’s hard to imagine that does not spell trouble for the future of the American workforce. Perhaps, though, Apple’s switch from “100 percent Made in the U.S.A.” to “10 percent Made in the U.S.A.” represents the natural growth pattern of a company going global. At this point, the iPhone is largely designed in the United States (where Apple has 43,000 employees); parts are made in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Europe, and elsewhere; and products are assembled in China. The future of at least 247 suppliers worldwide depends on Apple’s approximately $30.1 billion in orders per quarter. And we can’t forget that
Apple posted $16.1 billion in revenue from China in the first quarter of 2015, up 70 percent from the first quarter of 2014, perhaps in part because its manufacturing in China builds support for the brand there. As a maker of some of the most cutting-edge, revered products in the electronics marketplace, perhaps Apple serves not as a failure of one country to hold onto a company completely, but as one of the best examples of global ingenuity.
1-15. What are the pros and cons for the local and overseas labor forces of Apple’s going global? What are
the potential political implications for country relationships?
1-16. As a U.S. corporation, does Apple and its management have a moral obligation to provide jobs
for U.S. employees first? If this is the case, then does this put international employees at a distinct
1-17. Is it possible for U.S. managers to organize, motivate, and ensure quality in their Chinese manufacturing facilities?
Sources: B. X. Chen, “IPhone Sales in China Bolster Apple Earnings,” The New York Times (January
27, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/technology/apple-quarterly-earnings.html?_r=0;
C. Duhigg and K. Bradsher, “How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work,” The New York Times, January 22,
2013, A1, A22–A23; H. Gao, “How the Apple Confrontation Divides China,” The Atlantic (April 8,
274764/; and A. Satariano, “Apple Slowdown Threatens $30 Billion Global Supplier Web,” Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-18/apple-slowdown-threatens-30-billion-global-supplierweb-tech.html.