‘Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.’

This is what the underside of any Apple product says. This is a story of globalisation – of a global company operating at an enomous scale to achieve profit. Before I begin this blog, I’d like to say that I’m not at all against Apple – I’m writing this on a product that boasts that very slogan: ‘Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.’ I want to know where my product has come from, who’s hands it has passed through and why? Why those lives? Why was it not Designed in California and Assembled in California? Or designed in China and assembled in China?

Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China. This line is found on every Apple product.
Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China. This line is found on every Apple product.

As patterns of consumption change, and customers have increasingly more power, businesses have to do more than set a low price for a product. Competition is now about more than price, it’s about innovation. The iPhone is not the cheapest smartphone on the market, but its enormous market share is so because Apple is innovative, in design, in performance, in technological invention and in marketing. California has become a ‘hub’ for experts in the technology industry to congregate. Adobe, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Yahoo, HP, Intel and McAfee – to name but a few – all have headquarters in the San Fransisco Bay area.

This, I believe, is advantageous to all companies. A recent IT graduate will more likely migrate to this area than any in the world because the high congregation of technology corporations makes it a prosperous place for skilled labour in their expertise. If McAfee were to move their headquarters to Texas, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot – because the labour force is unlikely to move with them. If they want the very best people in the world, they need to surround themselves with the competition. As California has become a place for innovation and technology, China has become a place for production and manufacturing.

The San-Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. This leads to one of the most innovative cities in the world. Photo credit: Tom Bricker.
The San-Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. This leads to one of the most innovative cities in the world. Photo credit: Tom Bricker.

Enter Longhua, Shenzhen, China, home to the largest of Foxconn’s factories. Hundreds of thousands of workers live, sleep, eat, and work at “Foxconn City” in Longhua manufacturing electronic goods, including Apple’s iPhones. After international media scrutiny into their working conditions, Foxconn is improving the quality of life for their employees – more time off, less overtime and better facilities at ‘Foxconn City’. But, there’s one thing that cannot change for the employees. The sheer boredom of the work. This is one of the problems that electronic goods manufacturers face – it’s boring, it’s monotonous and it’s repetitive. The speed of the electronics industry means that as soon as a robot is made to take over these tasks, it is rendered obsolete because the parts have changed, or the design process is different.

Why are Apple operating at these factories? Steve Jobs – former CEO of Apple – said that the jobs would never come back to America because Asian factories are faster, on a much larger scale and have much better flexibility towards change than American factories (Rawson, 2012). The labour market in China is also absolutely enormous. 230,000 factory workers make the iPhone – to hire that number of people in America would take months, but in China, days. These jobs are in high demand. It’s not just the monotonous labour – over 8000 skilled engineers oversee the manufacturing process. Finding 8000+ educated, trained and willing-to-work engineers in America would take 9 months. In China, 15 days. China is a place of people – an enormous number of people.

On the Foxconn production line. It's not dangerous, it's boring.
On the Foxconn production line. It’s not dangerous, it’s boring.

Globalisation is creating places of labour – hubs of talent where businesses and people congregate. We’re working together to make the world better for businesses – to make products cheaper and consumerism thrive. If you want to work in economics, the highest job prospects are in the economic giants – London, New York, Tokyo. If you want to learn to cook, the best education is in France or Italy. If you want to work in car design, head to Swindon, home of Honda’s “centre for excellence in Europe”.

This globalisation of the labour market is making the world more diverse, and less diverse at the same time. Cultures, identities, values and beliefs are moving all around the world, chasing the labour ‘hubs’. And yet these hubs are homogenising local places, pushing out those who want to chase a certain career path but don’t want to relocate for it. Is globalisation a force for good? For consumers, yes. For businesses, yes. For local places? Time will tell.

Liam

Some sources from this blog:

Rawson, (2012). Why Apple’s products are ‘Designed in California’ but ‘Assembled in China’. http://www.tuaw.com/2012/01/22/why-apples-products-are-designed-in-california-but-assembled/

Kabin, (2013). Apple’s iPhone: Designed in California but manufactured fast all around the world. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/228315

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