Apple's corporate headquarters, PR megamachine and primary customer base are in the US. Their products, on the other hand, come directly from Chinese hardware manufacturers. Like Apple, they're good at keeping secrets. Unlike Apple, they're sometimes violent about it.
In writing an exposé on Apple's supply chain, Reuters' reporters fleshed out what we already know: There's an immense pressure on companies under contract with Apple not to leak any information about forthcoming products; said companies have shady labor histories; working for one of these companies frankly sounds terrifying.
We touched on these problems when Foxconn was accused of driving an employee to suicide over an iPhone prototype leak last year, but at the time, our picture of Foxconn was patched together from a pile of second and third-hand reports, conflicting local news stories, and PR spin. To date, there hasn't been a better illustration of the problem than this
Tipped by a worker outside the Longhua complex that a nearby Foxconn plant was manufacturing parts for Apple too, our correspondent hopped in a taxi for a visit to the facility in Guanlan, which makes products for a range of companies.
As he stood on the public road taking photos of the front gate and security checkpoint, a guard shouted. The reporter continued snapping photos before jumping into a waiting taxi. The guard blocked the vehicle and ordered the driver to stop, threatening to strip him of his taxi license.
The correspondent got out and insisted he was within his rights as he was on the main road. The guard grabbed his arm. A second guard ran over, and with a crowd of Foxconn workers watching, they tried dragging him into the factory.
The reporter asked to be let go. When that didn't happen, he jerked himself free and started walking off. The older guard kicked him in the leg, while the second threatened to hit him again if he moved. A few minutes later, a Foxconn security car came along but the reporter refused to board it. He called the police instead.
After the authorities arrived and mediated, the guards apologized and the matter was settled. The reporter left without filing a complaint, though the police gave him the option of doing so.
"You're free to do what you want," the policeman explained, "But this is Foxconn and they have a special status here. Please understand."
So, let's get this straight: If you, a reporter, take pictures of the outside of a Foxconn factory, you can dragged, kicked, threatened, and reminded of how ominously "special" Foxconn's relationship with Apple makes them. (PS: Omigod, have you heard about the new iPad!?)
For Apple, this could mean two things: That they long ago entered into business with a company that's predisposed to violent enforcement of security policy; or that their extreme demands for secrecy, and extreme value to Foxconn, have driven the company to become this way.