Apple Inc., Made In America

There are two sayings on the back of every Apple product: Designed By Apple in California and Assembled in China. These statements attempt to say that even though the products might be assembled in a different country, Apple is an American company — a fact Apple proclaimed loudly today with a new web page titled Creating jobs through innovation.

Apple has been under fire lately regarding its overseas manufacturing partners. Apple hired the Fair Labor Association to conduct voluntary audits of the final assembly partners, including Foxconn’s massive Asian facilities. But consumers and activists alike aren’t buying it. It’s a smokescreen, they say. Foxconn will just hide the children and give everyone a new pillow prior to inspector’s arrival. This has rightly put Apple on the defensive.

To a growing minority Apple is viewed as just another unethical company employing cheap overseas labor to assemble its wares while filling its coffers with the savings. Groups are calling for radical but compassionate actions to improve the working conditions in China and abroad. Apple will not deny its products are assembled by Foxconn and others, but it’s still an American company and responsible for a large chunk of jobs in America. Apple is essentially stating today that even though your iPhone was made in China, the company supports American households as well.

The page launched by Apple today breaks down employment numbers. There are 47,000 people employed directly by Apple in the U.S. There are Apple employees in all 50 states. iOS developers account for 210,000 jobs in the U.S., Apple says.

There are also 257,000 employees in support roles at different companies. As Apple notes, this number is comprised of many jobs, including employees at Corning making the iPhone glass, and the FedEx man delivering your MacBook Air. Apple also includes third party consumer sales staff, transportation professionals and healthcare associates in this estimate (don’t forget about the bloggers!). This estimate no doubt came from a standard employment multiplier applied to Apple’s base employment and U.S. expenditures.

Apple goes on to state that there are 27,350 Apple Store employees in 44 states, 9,700 U.S.-based AppleCare Advisors with 2,000 of them working out of their homes. As Apple says, they directly and indirectly employ a lot of Americans. But they should. They’re the most valuable company in the world with more cash on hand than many entire countries.

I’m not part of the pitchfork-wielding mob randomly shouting outside Apple Stores. Apple doesn’t employ the people that build its products; Foxconn and others pay those people’s wages. I think the idea of an ethically-built iPhone is a pipe dream — but I am also glad there are people naive enough to believe in it.

Massive entities like Apple need accountability. Unyielding affection leads to corruption. Fanboys need haters to bring the conversation back to reasonable territory. For every MG Siegler, there needs to be a Mike Daisey. The call to build an ethical iPhone will fail, but it will also improve the working conditions and wages for hundreds of thousands of assembly workers. In fact, Foxconn raised the base worker’s salary just days before the first inspectors arrived last month.

There’s a movement in America to bring the country back to its manufacturing roots and Apple is one of the prime examples, thanks to its recent success. Let’s get Americans to build products used by Americans, the movement’s activists yell. But that’s not how a global company like Apple, General Motors, IBM, or Nike survives. The same plants contracted by Apple are also used by HP, Dell, Sony, Amazon and nearly every other consumer electronic brand. Apple will never build a manufacturing facility in America’s heartland to manufacture and assemble iPhones. Chinese factory-cities have a head start of decades and billions in investment, and America isn’t going to catch up by putting up a few poky facilities here and there.

Apple is on the defensive. This page proves it. But the company is also one of America’s greatest success stories. Three guys started Apple 35 years ago and it is now the world’s most valuable company. Apple added 7,800 jobs in 2011. It’s growing and helping Americans grow as well. The point they are trying to make is that while iPhones may not be made in America, Apple was, and though it has to rely on China to get you your iPhone for less than a grand, it’s still giving back to the country that made the company possible.

The Future Of Foxconn

Our own John Biggs spent several days at Foxconn’s massive Shenzhen campus. Read about his experience here. It’s worth your time.

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