Opinion

The Great Debate

How Apple, and everyone, can solve the sweatshop problem

Every few years brings us another sweatshop offender. In the 1990s it was Disney, and then Nike and Gap. The 2000s brought us Wal-Mart. The past few weeks Apple has been in the crosshairs.

One question is of paramount importance: How can we use this current public conversation to finally drive a different outcome? What must companies do so that 15 years after Kathie Lee Gifford tearfully became the first sweatshop poster child, workers who make and grow products for global consumers are paid fairly, protected from danger and free to advocate for themselves without fear of reprisal?

The good news is that these years of effort have created robust experience from which to identify what has gone wrong. The fundamental driver of “sweatshops” is that multinationals do not place value on good working conditions in their supply chains. This does not mean that a company doesn’t care about how those workers are treated, or that the company intends to act unethically or exploitatively. To the contrary, big companies require good conditions through vendor standards and “codes of conduct.” They build corporate responsibility departments whose staff have budgets to reduce the risk of bad working conditions at supplier factories and farms. But their work is much like the arcade game Whac-A-Mole: A problem arises in one factory that they take steps to fix, while other problems fester and ultimately break through the surface elsewhere.

For this to change, companies have to resolve the ways in which their business decisions actually drive irresponsible performance among their suppliers. Companies frequently speak with two voices when they talk to suppliers. Procurement officers responsible for ordering something from a supplier expect delivery of a quality good at a cheap price on a tight time frame. Corporate responsibility professionals embody the expectations that all those other business needs will be met, but in a responsible manner. Yet that responsibility gets ignored when a company makes last-minute design changes or increases order size. The supplier will still deliver a quality product on time, but will do so by keeping his employees at work overnight or for days on end. Without the ability to negotiate a higher price at the last minute, the supplier can’t pay the workers for their overtime without taking a loss himself. Thus responsibility is sacrificed by a company’s business decisions.

Instead, companies must learn to speak to their suppliers with one voice and reinforce that voice with action. Suppliers should get positive incentives in the form of higher prices, financial bonuses, long-term contracts or other benefits for maintaining good working conditions. In-house procurement and supply chain staff should be compensated more highly if they place orders with responsible suppliers. Taking these steps would allow businesses to integrate social responsibility with other business requirements like quality, price and delivery.

The Book of Jobs

Steve Jobs smelled so foul that none of his co-workers at Atari in the seventies would work with him. Entreating him to shower was usually futile; he’d inevitably claim that his strict vegan diet had rid him of body odor, thus absolving him of the need for standard hygiene habits. Later, friends would theorize that he had been exercising what would prove a limitless capacity for sustained and gratuitous lying that came to be nicknamed the “reality distortion field.”

Jobs originally learned the “reality distortion field” from Bob Friedland, an enterprising hippie he met by chance one day when he returned early to his dorm room and found Friedland having sex with Jobs’ girlfriend. Bob was four years older than Steve, and had taken two years off to serve a prison sentence for LSD trafficking. Like Steve, Bob would eventually become a billionaire, just in the mining business. His followers would often invoke his old drug dealer nickname “Toxic Bob.”

Steve Jobs needed no nickname. As the title of his definitive biography reminds, Steve Jobs speaks for itself. His name was his essence, what set him apart even among greats like Einstein and Kissinger, iconic figures with whom he shared a biographer, Walter Isaacson (though not the cheesy, descriptive subheads Isaacson used in his books about the other two subjects).

from Katharine Herrup:

Are corporations really occupying #OccupyWallStreet?

There are two stories about the corporate hijacking of #OccupyWallStreet on Reuters.com. One piece talks about how U.S. ice cream maker Ben & Jerry is making a laughing stock of the protestors by issuing a statement in support of the protest:

The directors of the board of ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s released a statement saying they were supporting the protest.

But this corporate alignment doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. Instead of drumming up support for the protestors it has made them something of a laughing stock. Papers, blogs and TV reports are running competitions for the best flavour ice-cream Ben & Jerry’s could create to honour the protests (ocu-pie is gaining some traction). But all of this is distracting from promoting the protestors’ aims and message.

Jobs made Apple great by ignoring profit

By Clayton Christensen and James Allworth
The opinions expressed are their own.

Steve Jobs retires as the CEO of Apple with a reputation that will place him amongst the pantheon of history’s great global business leaders. Many people have written about what makes Jobs and Apple special, but I think they’re missing what truly set him apart. Jobs has succeeded by eschewing the one thing that most people view as the raison d’être for companies — profit.

When I left the industry to come to academia 22 years ago, it was driven by a set of questions that had troubled me for some time. Why was it that the best run companies in the world — companies that have had incredibly smart leaders, following carefully detailed plans and with tremendous execution ability — reliably seem to come unstuck? The answer to this question is what has become known as the theory of disruption.

In a cruel twist of irony, the pursuit of profit — something that Wall Street pushes so hard — is what leaves companies open to being displaced. As they grow, their ability to find opportunities that are big enough to sustain their growth is reduced. They become myopic; they listen only to their best customers. They focus disproportionately on their most profitable products, and strive to improve these the fastest.

Apple over Microsoft by a TKO

robertXcringely
– Robert X. Cringely has been writing about technology since 1987 and blogging since 1997. His work has appeared, well, everywhere, but can mainly be read at http://www.cringely.com. The views expressed are his own. –

Winning by a technical knock-out (TKO) over Microsoft, Apple this week became, according to Standard & Poors, the second most valuable NASDAQ firm by market cap after Exxon-Mobil (click here for more on S&P’s ranking).  What a difference 13 years makes!  Apple is on a roll and while Microsoft is far from down and out it is clear that the competitive momentum lies these days with Cupertino more than Redmond.

When Steve Jobs assumed the CEO position at Apple on July 9, 1997 Apple shares cost $3.42 and the company had a market cap of around $3 billion. This week Apple shares hit $266 with a market cap of $241 billion — 80 times larger than it was 13 years ago.  Microsoft shares, in contrast, went from $17.67 to $31 in the same time frame — not even a doubling despite more than $80 billion in share buy-backs by the company.

For real results on climate, look beyond Copenhagen

– Aron Cramer is the president and CEO of BSR, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability. He is also coauthor of the forthcoming book Sustainable Excellence (Rodale 2010). The views expressed are his own.  –

(Updated on December 17th to correct figure in McKinsey study in paragraph 7.)

As world leaders seem uncertain about whether a binding treaty is even possible at Copenhagen, it’s important to remember what was already clear: Twelve days in Copenhagen were never going to solve climate change anyway.

No doubt, these negotiations, now extending into 2010, are crucial. The sooner we can seal a global deal to reduce emissions, the sooner we can avoid catastrophic climate change. But as important as the treaty negotiations in Copenhagen’s Bella Centre are, even a successful outcome will be for naught if boardroom decisions and factory processes aren’t reoriented toward a low-carbon future.

from Commentaries:

Apple-Google learn Corporate Governance 1.0

LONDON, Aug 3 (Reuters) - The resignation of Google CEO Eric Schmidt from Apple's board should come as no surprise to anyone with an inkling of what corporate governance means.

But then Silicon Valley's idea of corporate boards has long consisted of cozy, interlocking directorships which would be considered collusion in most other industries.

Google's CEO is not leaving Apple's board voluntarily. He is only stepping down in response to the increased government scrutiny of obvious potential conflicts of interest between the two companies.

How Apple can take bite of business market

Eric Auchard– Eric Auchard is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Apple Inc is taking steps to make its computers run on corporate networks, but these moves fall far short of ensuring Mac users win equal standing in business.

Full corporate access for Apple computers inside businesses remains years away. If and when it comes, acceptance is more than likely to be the result of broad trends reshaping the office computer market, rather than Apple’s own product genius.

from The Great Debate UK:

New iPhone small step towards global domination

tom_dunmore-Tom Dunmore is editor-in-chief of Stuff magazine. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Yesterday, Apple unveiled the latest version of its wildly popular iPhone. And it was quite a show, despite the absence of Apple's usual ringmaster Steve Jobs.

The keynote speech at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco was heaving the massed ranks of the global media, hyped by rumours of mini iPhones, touschscreen Macs and Steve Jobs' early return from sick leave.

Are a CEO’s health problems a private matter?

dr-jgsm-05– Dana Radcliffe is a Day Family senior lecturer of business ethics at the Johnson School at Cornell University. The views expressed are his own. —

Are a CEO’s health problems a private matter? Or does he or she have an obligation to disclose them to investors and other stakeholders?

These are questions Apple and its iconic co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs have had to face ever since he was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2003.  Happily, the disease proved to be treatable with surgery, which Jobs underwent in 2004.  But shareholders didn’t learn that Apple’s chief had been ill until he sent out an email to employees, announcing that he had had cancer but was now “cured.”

  •