The cost of what we buy – Apple’s nightmare

“We are extremely tired, with tremendous pressure. We finish one step in every seven seconds, which requires us to concentrate and keep working and working. We work faster even than the machines.”

How do you feel about buying that iPad now? Knowing that this is how the worker how made it feels about their job?

A corporate nightmare is taking shape for Apple, H-P and Dell out in China. The spate of suicides at FoxConn, the Chinese manufacturer responsible for so many of their products reveals how companies which present such a sunny face to their consumers in the West depend on darker realities in the places where they make their goods.

In truth, it is hard to make sense of what is going on in these factories, because we know so little. FoxConn and their Western partners are extremely reluctant to talk about this issue, saying only that they adhere to international standards. That’s a cop-out. A standard becomes meaningless when your employees are killing themselves at an alarming rate.

Can those who shunned Nike because of its supply chain issues now buy Apple or H-P products with a clean conscience?

Until we find out more about what’s happening at FoxConn, this is going to be a profound and growing problem for Western firms. They need to be much more open and visibly concerned about working conditions along their supply chain. A proper view of human dignity would allow that what’s good for workers in Silicon Valley should be good for workers in China.

Evidently, that’s not what’s going on.


Fast trading transforms Wall Street

This piece in the NY Times today by Julie Creswell covers exactly the subject at the heart of my two thrillers, Dead Bankers and Ghosts. We think we know what is going on in the financial markets because we can track the public exchanges, but so much now goes on out of sight we know far less than we think. The causes of price movements are more of a mystery than ever. This opens up enormous possibilities for anyone wanting to game the system.

Nitin Nohria’s very flaky start

I was excited to see Nitin Nohria appointed as the new Dean of HBS. He’s an interesting man with interesting ideas. He’s well-liked, and Indian-born, which makes a lot of sense in today’s economy. Jay Light, the previous Dean, was weak and waffling as the school’s public face during the past few years of economic tumult. He must be looking forward to spending more time in his role as a board member at Blackstone now. At a cocktail party in New York last week, an activist hedge fund manager complained to me that Nohria was one of these “touchy-feely” guys and what the school needed was financiers in charge. Real business people not behavioral experts. I didn’t agree.

But then I read this interview with Nohria in Business Week. He was asked what he thought of Goldman Sachs’ appearance before Congress. He said:

“The events in the financial sector are something that have been watched closely at Harvard Business School. We teach by the case method, and one of the things we’ll do through this experience is study these cases deeply as information is revealed over time so we can understand what happened at all these financial firms. I’m sure that at some point we’ll write cases about Goldman Sachs because that’s how we learn.”

Oh God. It’s so feeble. What does it take for a dean at HBS to say something critical of the financial sector? They’ve lost billions, plundered the US Treasury for help and in Goldman Sachs’ case face criminal and civil fraud charges.

And still HBS is waiting to figure out the learning opportunity???