Proview tries to block iPads from coming in or going out of China

Not content with officials yesterday confiscating iPads in Shijiazhuang over an ongoing litigation on the iPad moniker, Taiwanese company Proview Electronics is now looking to put a ban on both iPad imports and exports, according to Reuters. The company is already petitioning Chinese customs to stop shipments of iPads. Proview sued Apple last year over its “I-PAD” trademark and could seek up to $1.5 billion for the name from the Cupertino, Calif.-headquartered gadget powerhouse.

Apple is in an increasingly difficult place here. Considering every iPad is built in China (until Brazil plants go online), a full-blown export ban could disrupt the iPad business on a global scale. Proview’s legal position stems from Chinese laws that seek to prevent the sale of counterfeit goods in the country. The news gathering organization confirmed the development this morning:

A Chinese tech firm claiming to own the “iPad” trademark plans to seek a ban on shipments of Apple Inc’s computer tablets into and out of China, a lawyer for the company, Proview Technology (Shenzhen), said on Tuesday.

Proview also asked the country’s Administration Industry and Commerce to put in effect iPad confiscations in as much as 30 cities. Apple’s position in this dispute remains unchanged as a spokesperson re-iterated the official line:

We bought Proview’s worldwide rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries several years ago. Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China and a Hong Kong court has sided with Apple in this matter.

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Pegatron: Apple hasn’t informed us about forthcoming labor audits

Apple’s contract manufacturer Pegatron Technology of Taiwan is unaware of any forthcoming labor inspections at its Asian plants because its client has not officially tipped them about labor audits, according to Chief Financial Officer Charles Lin tells to Bloomberg. Lin was reacting to yesterday’s announcement by Apple of California that the first audits in cooperation with the Fair Labor Association have started at Foxconn City in Shenzhen, China.

Pegatron Corp., a maker of Apple Inc.’s iPhones, said it hasn’t been informed of any pending inspections of factory work conditions by labor groups, a day after the U.S. company said checks would start this spring. Pegatron is aware of Apple’s corporate social responsibility policies, Charles Lin, chief financial officer of the Taipei-based company, said by telephone today. The client hasn’t informed him about any upcoming audits, Lin said.

Apple previously confirmed that audits at Pegatron and Quanta Computer, the company assembling Mac notebooks, are due this spring. The company said the results of FLA audits will be made available on its website at the end of March. In the wake of the Foxconn scandal, a month ago Apple became the first technology company admitted to the FLA. That announcement followed Apple’s release of 2012 Supplier Responsibility Report that for the first time named 156 companies currently supplying components for Apple products, which left only three percent of suppliers absent from the list.

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Fair Labor Association begins audits of Apple suppliers at Foxconn City

Following the release of Apple’s “2012 Supplier Responsibility Report,” Apple announced it would be the first technology company admitted to the Fair Labor Association. The FLA will “independently assess facilities in Apple’s supply chain,” and then publish its independent findings online. Apple announced through a press release today that the first audits have officially started with FLA President Auret van Heerden and his team beginning inspections at Foxconn City in Shenzhen. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the audits are “unprecedented in the electronics industry”: Read more

Group plans disruptive protest tomorrow at Apple’s Grand Central Store over Foxconn conditions

Consumer groups SumOfUs and Change.org are waging a war over the working conditions at Apple’s (and the rest of the electronics industry’s) main outsourced manufacturer Foxconn. The groups said that over 35,000 people signed their “Stop Worker Abuse” online petition in just 24 hours. Today, the groups announced they would deliver a quarter million petition signatures to Apple.

Furthermore, a protest will be staged tomorrow at 10 a.m. outside Apple’s new Grand Central Terminal retail store and representatives from both SumOfUs and Change.org promised to join the protesters. Change.org’s Mark Shields called abusive working conditions at Foxconn factories “appalling,” adding he was shocked to learn about them.

The two consumer groups are demanding that the iPhone maker release a worker protection strategy for new product releases because these are the instances “when injuries and suicides typically spike because of the incredible pressure to meet quotas timed to releases.” They are also pressuring Apple to publish the results of Fair Labor Association’s audit (to which the company willfully agreed): “Including the NAMES of the suppliers found to have violations and WHAT those violations are, so that there is transparency around the monitoring effort.” The petition (found here) opens with an interesting paragraph:

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NYTimes: Why Apple builds its products in China

The NY Times just published an absolutely fascinating piece on Apple and why it builds almost all of its stuff in China. Go read it.  Clearly some of our politicians could learn a lot from it.

The short of it is that companies like Apple simply cannot manufacture products in the United States.  The cost (though it is cheaper in China) is not the reason, however.  Years ago, the Chinese government subsidized building cities of factories that can hire 3,000 workers to live in a dorm per day —or 8,700 Industrial Engineers in two weeks (it would take 9 months to do this in the U.S.).  Today’s gadgets require thousands of little parts that are all made in the same areas.  This whole global supply chain cannot be moved to the U.S.

The most interesting tale might have been the last minute decision to make the iPhone’s display glass:

In 2007, a little over a month before the iPhone was scheduled to appear in stores, Mr. Jobs beckoned a handful of lieutenants into an office. For weeks, he had been carrying a prototype of the device in his pocket.

Mr. Jobs angrily held up his iPhone, angling it so everyone could see the dozens of tiny scratches marring its plastic screen, according to someone who attended the meeting. He then pulled his keys from his jeans.

People will carry this phone in their pocket, he said. People also carry their keys in their pocket. “I won’t sell a product that gets scratched,” he said tensely. The only solution was using unscratchable glass instead. “I want a glass screen, and I want it perfect in six weeks.”

After one executive left that meeting, he booked a flight to Shenzhen, China. If Mr. Jobs wanted perfect, there was nowhere else to go.

 New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

For over two years, the company had been working on a project — code-named Purple 2 — that presented the same questions at every turn: how do you completely reimagine the cellphone? And how do you design it at the highest quality — with an unscratchable screen, for instance — while also ensuring that millions can be manufactured quickly and inexpensively enough to earn a significant profit?

Other notable tidbits: Read more

Foxconn issues go mainstream thanks to This American Life and The Daily Show

Earlier this week, Apple pledged to let the Fair Labor Association access its suppliers’ facilities to monitor working conditions. Even though Apple is the first technology company admitted to the FLA, the snowballing issue of harsh conditions at Far East plants will not go away with the announcement. Quite the contrary, the problem has escalated and gone mainstream, with both The Daily Show and This American Life focusing on the grim reality of earning a living at Foxconn-operated sweatshops in China.

Jon Stewart, The Daily Show host and chief satirist, remarked in an episode yesterday:

By creating a convenient ecosystem, China’s Foxconn draws in employees who earn 31 cents an hour working for 35 hours straight, thereby saving American companies money.

As you know, Foxconn (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry) is Apple’s favorite contract manufacturer, it but also produces gadgets for Amazon, Microsoft, HP, Dell and a variety of other brands. With that said, both shows tackle larger issues that affect just about every electronics manufacturer. The last week’s episode of This American Life, the popular radio program, weighed in as well. You can listen to their free audio stream here.

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