Cross border management is a tricky phenomenon for global business, particularly for multinationals with overseas active production operations. I have always held the opinion that the complexity of the cross border management in the operations of multinationals requires a local solution to counter the arising issues. Leading global firms must therefore to live to expectations, and set the pace for dealing with the complexities and complications of human resource management at the global level (Loeww and Molner 1997, p11). Apple as one of the leading global firms was firmly in the lead following the hype around its smartphone launch eagerly waited for towards the end of 2011. A case of specific interest in Apple’s cross-cultural experiences involved the Chinese business production operations for some of Apple’s products. With such corporate characteristics at Apple, human resource management issues of poor working environment remotely featured in the success story. The perception held at the beginning as attached to the success of the electronic producing giant, certainly translated into the best combination of production environment. Despite the possibility of cross cultural management issues emerging for many corporations, initial opinion ranked Apple as a multinational corporation with sufficient resource power to overcome any challenge likely to compromise its image.
In line with the initial human resource perceptions held about Apple production across its overseas operations, modern organizations continued innovation hinges around precision in operations. According to Sydänmaanlakka’s definition of the intelligent organization constructed within the framework of the information age’s accurate operations, competent human resource management is a necessity (Hämäläinen and Saarinen 2008, p132; Hockley, Jansen, Laughner and White 2008, p70). It was therefore easy to expect Apple, modernized information and communication technology experts to observe the intelligent organization model in overseas operations. Among the main postulates that Sydänmaanlakka forwarded is the characteristic of efficient knowledge management and reliance on close-to-perfect human resource motivation for steady productivity. Constructing the type of organization setting that Apple operates in must be formulated not only from the products it deals in but on the corporate standards that such production involves. Perhaps illustrating corporate setting against the background of an intelligent organization cannot leave Apple out of the list, due to perceived competitiveness gained in the recent history.
In dealing with cross-border human resource management issues, the best practices are developed from customized market research. At Apple, continued research and development for product and market competitiveness is among the core strengths that facilitates realization of a unique market positioning. It is therefore expected that before launching overseas presence program, Apple engages in comprehensive research for the entry into the new location. Understanding the recruitment procedures applied in the local setting and upgrading them to internationally acclaimed standards is the best approach that a multinational corporation is expected to embrace. It therefore follows that the global policy of operations employed by Apple in the parent company is expected to be replicated across its subsidiaries across the globe. This is particularly important in maintaining competitiveness status acquired in the initial operations or raising the standards further for constant improvement of productivity. Understanding the employee commitment and motivation parameters assists the human resource management to define the most favorable terms of employment coupled to the applicable working environment. In this regard, the best corporation human management functions have been cut out for delivery of organizational objectives (Bolman and Deal 2003, p35). Availability of information needed to reorganize human resource for the best results in the current corporate practices presents today’s manager with sufficient options to handle productivity issues.
In the setting established for corporate operations in the world, human resource function of the organization is perhaps the most important resource. Managing the human resource in the 21st century is a special role for the management, with the understanding that the productivity of the organization is hinged on the productivity of the human resource (Sims 2002, p46). In dealing with human resource issues, several interventions have been formulated to raise the standards to those of the world around the organization. Meeting human wants from the employment engagement that the employee undertakes becomes a form of motivation, and subsequently influences the productivity and quality of work delivered. Human resource management therefore organizes the environment in which the employees deliver their results to coincide with optimum organizational productivity targets. According to the Maslow’s postulates, human wants determine the commitment invested in an assignment. Maslow’s hierarchy of wants reflects the extent to which employees can make sacrifices to meet various classes of wants, thereby dictating the motivation likely to be cultivated in an employment assignment.
Second Log: Jan 12 to mid Feb (Review and Reflection)
In terms of the initial expectations held about Apple as an American multinational operating in China, cross-cultural human resource management issues were not envisioned. One of the main reasons for such expectations is the premise that exposure to diverse cultural backgrounds in America was sufficient ground for apple to approach international operations from an informed perspective. Alternatively, competitiveness enjoyed by the Apple brand across the globe is likely to attract the best expertise and competence in handling overseas human resource issues. However, as my findings on the research about Apple operations in China confirmed, it is very difficult to forge uniform operation attributes across the diverse cultural settings.
Foxconn production plant for Apple products in Chengdu emerged in the late January to early February news, contrary to earlier beliefs held on Apple’s balanced corporate experience, particularly touching on human resource management. Despite my initial tempting thoughts of the possibility of detaching Foxconn from Apple for purposes of maintaining Apple’s highly regarded position, it emerged that the close partnership presents the two corporations as inseparable parties. Employees working in difficult conditions to an extent that some of them resulted in committing suicide inside the plant presented a different concept of earlier beliefs (Nowak 2012, para.2). Handling employee welfare in such a manner defies the employee motivation and commitment approaches proposed by human resource management insights. It therefore raised many questions regarding the cross-border factors that Apple operations are subjected to in overseas operations.
In terms of the social and civil freedoms that the Chinese society enjoys, it is difficult for the relatively thin space for employees to champion for their rights. Cultural environment under such circumstances therefore spell slender negotiation platform for the workers in fear of action against them. The population figures in the country and the unemployment indices compel the employees to stomach difficult and challenging conditions. Perhaps employing the locally established firm Foxconn was a strategy for Apple to circumvent around cross-cultural difficulties of establishing a new plant in China but it clearly did not work for the welfare of the Chinese worker. It would be possible for Apple to avoid the negative image of its handling of employees if the standards set in the US were implemented without following locally established culture of suppressing employee protests.
Some of the difficult working environment that Apple employees in Foxconn plant in Chengdu experience includes personal safety and remuneration issues as follows. There is a poor remuneration program against long working hours without proper overtime distinction. Employees have poor living facilities offered to the workers on the company’s living dorms. The plant operations are on compromised personal safety conditions when handling harmful chemical in the plant. Employees complain of standing for entire working shift duration until their limbs swell. In addition, working in explosion vulnerable environment without proper protection is a common challenge for a worker at the plant. Under the employee-welfare-conscious human resource management, the modern corporation is expected to follow the globally acceptable standards of employment setting (Barboza and Duhigg 2012, para.7). This is different from the expectation that every person would attach to Apple’s success.
Related personal work experience
In light of a personal experience in an employment assignment involving a multinational company, issues of employment working conditions emerged. I acquired employment assignment with a British oil producing company working in Africa, creating a cross-cultural diversity environment. The company seniors were of an African origin and the challenge emerged from lack of work holiday, as is the case in Europe. It was important for me to have programmed and paid-for leaves, to facilitate concentration in work after a difficult run of operations in Africa travelling in many countries on official duties. I petitioned the head office in the UK on the issue, which did not please the local management leading to a standoff that made it difficult to continue with the job. I was seemingly wrong to force my wishes in demanding for a holiday, but I was perhaps right in championing for the rights of the rest of the employees. The reason for my push was certainly not on self-centered reasoning and the motivation to have the management accountable for employee’s plight was stronger than obtaining the leave.
In future, it will increasingly be important for multinational corporations to consider the specific needs of the employees without bias of cultural differences. The intelligent organization that is controlled by the prevailing conditions of the information age has a special attention to employee welfare. Human resource management concept increasingly gains momentum to coincide with other production trends that incorporate human attributes to the business process. As an illustration, the modern day production is highly driven by consumer needs and behavior. Consumer research is an important aspect of the marketing front of modern business, making production as responsive to human cues of productivity as possible (Harzing and Ruysseveldt 2004, p123). Alternatively, ensuring that the internal human force presented by the employees does not lose focus of organizational objectives, human resource management will increasingly hold importance to operations.
In terms of the developments of Apple’s handling of the employee welfare case at Foxconn, international outcry on the plight of the Chinese workers has attracted response from Apple. Besides making official statements on the willingness to ensure that every worker at Apple is an important part of the achieved success, Apple has undertaken to investigate the damaging allegations. Employee welfare is certainly going to take a different perspective in the Chinese firm, despite the pressure from the political and demographic variables that make it difficult for business to be at par with the rest of the corporate world.
International human resource management faces scrutiny than ever before with the advent of innovative communication technologies such as the social media platform. While the average Chinese working standards cannot be highly rated in comparison with the western standards, China will remain to be under pressure to adopt business and its culture as the rest of the world dictates. Handling of human resource affairs such as remuneration and safety will equally continue to fall out of corporate jurisdiction into human rights definition as Maslow postulates project.
Third Log: Feb 12 to 1st of March (First Log Reflection)
With time, issues emerged that the Foxconn production plant for Apple in China had issues with working conditions inside the plant. Several suicide cases reported at the plant emerged to reveal grievous working conditions with a skeptical relationships slowly developing in the media. Highlights of the working conditions by the media perhaps reflected the established standards over the years, with a keen following from various sources presenting corporate practices under a watchful eye. Favorable working conditions under human resource management are part of a culture established in the modern standards of corporate practices (Leung and Tjosvold 2003, p22). Flouting employee welfare attracts reaction from within and outside the corporate walls, particularly for the multinational corporations exporting or importing cultural practices.
Using the American standards as the traditional operation environment for Apple, the cultural setting for corporate interaction with human resource was technically exported into the Chinese plant, Foxconn. Understanding the Chinese context of dealing with employee remuneration and right to union representation against the backdrop of welfare issues introduces cross-cultural challenges for the American firm operating in China. Perhaps one of the most powerful contributions to the development of the Foxconn human resource management challenges originated from the different working environment in the two countries (Paik and Vance 2006, p112).
Information and communication technology platform makes it easy for the modern manager to access the best information on human resource practices. Bearing in mind that Apple’s production is at the higher end of technology and innovativeness, access to the information of appropriate human management practices surrounding working conditions is presumed to be not an issue.
Barboza, D. & Duhigg, C. (2012) In China, human costs are built into an iPad, The New York Times, [Online] Available from <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/business/ieconomy-apples-ipad-and-the-human-costs-for-workers-in-china.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all> [Accessed 29 February 2012].
Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2003) Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Changing Minds, (2012) Trompenaars four diversity cultures, [Online] Available from <http://changingminds.org/explanations/culture/trompenaars_four_cultures.htm> [Accessed 29 February 2012].
Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E. (eds) (2008) Systems Intelligence-A New Lens on Human Engagement and Action, Helsinki, Finland: SAL Helsinki University of Technology
Harzing, A. W. & Ruysseveldt, J. (2004) International Human Recourse Management, London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Hockley, A., Jansen, J., Laughner, M. S. & White, R. (2008) From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organizations, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Leung, K. & Tjosvold, D. (2003) Cross-Cultural Management: Foundations and Future, Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Loeww, G. M. & Molner, D. E., (1997) Global assignments: Seven keys to IHRM, HR Focus, vol. 74, no. 5 pp.11-12
Nowak, P. (2012) Apple’s China factory conditions need perspective, [Online] Available from <http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/01/31/apple%E2%80%99s-china-factory-conditions-need-perspective/> [Accessed 29 January 2012].
Paik, Y. & Vance, C. M., (2006). Making a Global Workforce: Challenges and Opportunities in International Human Resource Management, New York, M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
Sims, R., (2002) Organizational Success through Effective Human Resources Management, Westport, Connecticut: Quorum Books.
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