Cook Had 15 Years to Address China Labor Conditions

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Fifteen years ago, Steve Jobs hired Tim Cook to reformat Apple's ( AAPL) manufacturing process. Ever since, Apple's efforts to improve working conditions at their Chinese factories have been intermittent and halfhearted, amounting to little more than hollow gestures. Now Cook is chief executive officer. He's made a visit. Spoken some words. And commissioned an audit.

In other words, for all intents and purposes: same old, same old.

Yet The New York Times ( NYT) saw fit to run this headline: "Apple's Chief Puts Stamp on Labor Issues" above an article about how the heroic Cook is courageously taking on an issue Jobs ignored and can save Apple from a public perception black-mark as a result.

The Times called Cook's effort "significant," adding that he could "make his earliest and most significant mark by changing how Apple's products are made."

Uh, really?

This is the same Cook who was put in charge of the supply chain back in 1997? With gestures that are, so far, not meaningfully different than what has gone on since?

Look: Cook visited China and Jobs did not. But Cook was doing more there than turning factories user-friendly. Moreover, one visit does not a working-condition turnaround make.

This is an issue gnawing at consumer with increasing severity. And who knows? Cook might eventually address it in a substantive way. But so far, it's been status quo.

The media is always apt to dole out credit to a new chief executive officer -- especially one of a flashy company -- but in the case of Cook, Apple and Chinese factories, let's wait for the facts on the ground to actually change.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page.

For his "Business Press Maven" column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

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