Apple and Foxconn – do we need an Undercover Supply Manager?

(We're pleased to feature another guest post from Gordon Murray - his excellent blog is here. All views are of course Dr Murray's own).

I'm sure you've caught at least a glimpse of those TV programmes where the boss goes undercover to find out what it is really like working in their firm. Wouldn't it be interesting if there was a buyer version, where the buyer goes undercover to find out what it is really like working in their suppliers firms?  A good start would be if those who award 'best of bred status' did the same. 

 For example, it was only in May that Gartner crowned Apple king of the supply chain. At the time I was puzzled how, given Apple's supply chain problems, particularly with Foxconn, they could be positioned as the exemplar.    

 Now we learn that Foxconn's peculiar style of human resource management does not appear to be isolated to China but is also being applied in the Czech Republic. The Sunday Times reported on the research of Andrijasevic and Saccheto. We learn of accommodation in which 80 workers share a dozen showers and two bathrooms, 12 hour shifts punctuated with only a 30 minute lunch break and two 15 minute breaks, excessively low pay and fines imposed for sitting down.

 And one of Foxconn’s three Czech factories, in Kutna Hora, no longer makes products for Apple according to the reports. Why? Quite simply because Foxconn reacted to increased demands from their workers   - when the workers started getting together to demand better working conditions, the division was closed”.

 Is it really appropriate for Apple, an exemplar, to put up with these working practices and such behavior in one of their key suppliers?

 Our memories seem to trick us very quickly into forgetting too quickly the working conditions which led to the deaths in Bangladesh and how supply chain management can make a difference. Nobody is accusing Foxconn of putting its workers in the obvious danger we saw in that terrible Bangladesh factory collapse, but perhaps we need more 'walking in the shoes' of the factory workers if we really want to understand what it is like to be a supplier to some of our brand leaders. 

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