Why iPads Won’t Be “Made In America” Any Time Soon

The issue of Apple outsourcing the manufacture of its popular products around the world has become a human rights issue, notably after abusive working conditions at the factories of Chinese company Foxconn were described by the New York Times and others. At the D: All Things Digital conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook reiterated that he would indeed like to have components for Apple products made and even assembled in the US.

Cook is, as Andrew Nusca on CNET points out, a “longtime operations guy,” so he knows what he is talking about when it comes to manufacturing. But here’s the catch: Cook says there aren’t sufficient high-tech manufacturing skills among workers in the US — that, as a January New York Times noted, it is not just that overseas labor costs less:

Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.

In addition, people in the US would simply not put up with the conditions Foxconn workers do, from living in dormitories that hold 8,000 people far from their homes and having to be “ready to be woken up at midnight to start a 12-hour shift making new parts for an iPhone that received last-minute design changes from California.” If anyone needs to know why we need unions, the life of a Foxconn worker provides ample evidence. As Rusca asks,

Does the U.S. really want to compete with China when human rights and quality of life standards are a bit more slippery?

But Cook’s statement that American workers simply lack the kinds of skills needed to manufacture Apple products is equally an issue. Rusca notes that the US’s manufacturing hubs (the Midwest, the Carolinas) are “not geared for electronics.” Could “the creation of technical schools that could create that coveted workforce of engineers without a bachelor’s degree” make it possible, or at least more likely, to create more jobs to make products like Apple’s?

It’s a point that lends further weight to emphasizing science, technology, engineer and mathematics — the STEM areas — in American education. But the notion of creating that “coveted workforce of engineers without a bachelor’s degree” of course runs counter to calls for more and more Americans to receive college degrees.

By saying that Apple would manufacture products in the US if it could but it can’t, Cook is offering what you could say is the “ethically correct” answer. One point not directly addressed is the extent to which consumers shares in the complicity: Everyone (or nearly everyone) wants an iPhone or iPad and would surely prefer not to have to pay more than they can for it. Would we pay more (than we already are) for Apple products?

Even as we laud Apple for creating devices that have made some people’s (my son’s included) lives better, we need to remember the workers’ rights and human rights issues, and the abuses, associated with making these products. Is it not too fitting that Apple’s name is the fruit famous for its role in humankind’s fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden?

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Photo by bengrey


Edward C.
Edward C.5 years ago

Well...I already thought they were made in China.

Edward C.
Edward C.5 years ago

Well...I already thought they were made in China.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm5 years ago

Gary, You miss the point. I don't dislike Chinese workers. I dislike The corporations that simply removed our middle class in one fell swoop. WE cannot make near as much money in retail or fast food. There are VERY few Middles class jobs. And it doesn't look like were are going to see more of them in my lifetime. So basically in their wisdom they have decided we don't need a middle class. Thats why our economy sucks. We can't buy anything to make the economy better. Lowering taxes won't make them bring back jobs from China. Hell if the chinese ask for too much they will just go to Africa or Bangladesh. WE are just as hungry as we have ever been, maybe even more. But there are no jobs that feed a family of 4 or 5. You have to work 2 or 3 jobs and your wife too.

Leslie w.
Leslie w5 years ago

I'd pay more for a product made in America if the CEO of that company didn't make millions with a bonus of millions. I'm all for a boycott of companies with foreign workforces and millionaire CEOs.

Gary Ansorge
Gary Ansorge5 years ago

Before Y'All start knocking China for using "slave labor", you need to understand that these folk are exactly as much slaves as is ANYone working for a wage. If they didn't like the working conditions and wages at Foxcon, they could leave and don't forget the cost of living difference between the USA(one of the highest in the world) and China(one of the lowest).

Foxcon has 750,000 employees. Twenty some odd committed suicide over the last three years. In the same period, this small town in Georgia(pop; 19,000) had more suicides (22.4/100,000/year) than that.

I think Foxcon, China and Apple are doing all right.

Salary differential will become insignificant as Chinas COLA rises however, they will always have an advantage in both absolute population numbers and their attitude toward education.

They've stayed hungry...we haven't...

Luvenia V.
Luvenia V5 years ago

They work for $0.38 per hour, tell them you will work for $0.20 per hour and see how fast we become qualified for the job. I can't figure out why we don't just stop buying this crap for a month or two, isn't our country worth it?

Laurie T.
Laurie T5 years ago

I feel that this article merits good arguments on all different aspects of such a dilemma, ei: buying into Apple (or any other overseas factory product).
On a personal note, based on experiences; I was an animator back in the 80's. We waited for our next assigned contract for another animated movie, when the creator of the last, announced that we would not be contracted again, as they accepted a lower bid from a Japanese company, to illustrate the next production. We were, at that time, getting paid $15.75 hr. Our Japanese counterparts signed the contract for $1.20 hr. (just a smaller version of this same option) At the time we weren't privy to Japanese animator's working conditions either. Within the last 4 years, I have tutored online students and am saddened to find just how below international standard, American students are at the educational level. Perhaps I am (hopefully) wrong, but feel that America's last generations have been purposely kept "in the dark" as a means of staving off higher wage expectations over cost of living expenses, allowing big business to gain massive profits, via use of overseas inhumane working conditions. These actions also seem to continually oppress other countries from advancing. A catch 22?

Emma B
Emma Blydenburgh5 years ago

In this country, we don't seem to want to know the actual price of what we are buying. We just want it for less.

christopher KLINGER

It will take a while before i buy again a apple product, not because it is poorly made but because slaves toiled on it !

Judith H.
Judith H5 years ago