As a quick followup to the Apple/Nike piece, consider Nick Bilton’s recent blog post over at the New York Times. It is entitled “Disruptions: Too Much Silence on Working Conditions.” In the wake of Apple’s troubles with worker issues at Foxconn plants, he notes the continuing silence of other tech companies that use Foxconn to manufacture their products.
In the last week I have asked Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Microsoft and others about their reports on labor conditions. Most responded with a boilerplate public relations message. Some didn’t even respond.
Not surprising. It’s PR 101. If the story isn’t about you, just keep out of the limelight. If you keep your head down and hunker down in the trenches, you’re less likely to get shot at. Not particularly noble or just, but to be expected. Why jump into the fray and end up increasing costs of labor if you can possibly avoid it? I mean, aside from that whole “do the right thing” thing.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is the story itself. The New York Times placed this on the blog pages, not in the news. Considering the fact that the report that really blew up this issue was at the Times, you would think that this might merit coverage as an actual news story. But apparently not. Either the media are letting other companies off the hook, readers are only interested in the entertainment value of seeing a giant like Apple fall, or the Times believes that readers don’t care anymore. Or all three.
Apple and Foxconn seem to be trying to address some of the issues in interesting ways. Reactions vary, and people differ in whether or not they think these changes will be real and lasting–most interestingly, perhaps, among Chinese commenters themselves. But it is too bad that the American media has moved on so quickly from the issue of global labor rights.