February 22, 2012, 2:11 PM — Foxconn, the consumer electronics maker that handles assembly for a number of high-tech companies including Apple, was thrust into the spotlight Tuesday night as a national network news program took its cameras into the Chinese factory. The report airing on ABC's Nightline painted an interesting picture of Foxconn--but not necessarily interesting for the reasons you'd expect.
Foxconn has been in the news a lot in recent years, though not always for reasons that the manufacturer and its high-tech partners would hope for. The company was stung by a rash of suicides a few years ago and reports alleging poor working conditions persist.
Tuesday's Nightline report revealed a factory largely remarkable for its seeming normalcy. I had been worried that after I watched the report, I'd feel angst-ridden and guilty about using my iPad, iPhone, or MacBook Pro.
Early in the 18-minute report, Weir makes an analogy that meshed with my own take: I eat steak, but I try not to think about where it comes from when I'm sitting at the dinner table. With Nightline promising an "unprecedented" look at Foxconn, I feared Weir's investigation into Foxconn would reveal horrid working conditions that could rival any Nike or Kathie Lee controversy. The truth is, however, that the report broke little new ground into Foxconn, and actually left me feeling even less conflicted about my own continued use of Apple products.
By way of introduction
The first thing Weir's report got right was its handling of two key points that would have been wrong to ignore: He disclosed Apple's close relationship with Disney, parent company of ABC, the network that airs Nightline. (Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs was Disney's largest shareholder; now The Steve Jobs Trust holds that distinction.)
The second point Weir stressed several times throughout the broadcast was that while Apple takes the lion's share of criticism regarding the working conditions at is manufacturing plants, it's but one of many popular electronics giants that depend upon Foxconn. Among the others Weir rattled off: Nintendo, HP, Dell, and Intel.