Well, this is interesting. In its teardown of the freshly released 2012 Apple iMac, iFixit found an unexpected detail: the words "Assembled in USA" etched on the back.
The folks at AppleInsider did a little digging, and they found that the Federal Trade Commission establishes pretty clear guidelines for the "Assembled in USA" label. Turns out paying an American worker just to slap in a hard drive and RAM doesn't cut it; the machine actually has to undergo a "substantial transformation" in the U.S. to qualify. Here's the skinny from the the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection:
A product that includes foreign components may be called "Assembled in USA" without qualification when its principal assembly takes place in the U.S. and the assembly is substantial. For the "assembly" claim to be valid, the product’s last "substantial transformation" also should have occurred in the U.S. That’s why a "screwdriver" assembly in the U.S. of foreign components into a final product at the end of the manufacturing process doesn’t usually qualify for the "Assembled in USA" claim.
As AppleInsider points out, this might not mean Apple is transitioning manufacturing to the States. CEO Tim Cook reportedly mentioned supply constraints during Apple's quarterly earnings call in October, so perhaps Apple is merely supplementing Chinese supply with domestically built systems. Then again, something else might be at play here.
Apple has certainly been at the center of repeated controversy over working conditions in China. Most of that controversy has involved Foxconn, which makes Apple's iPhones and iPads (among other devices) in its Chinese facilities. There have been worker suicides, allegations about underage labor, worker riots, and other unsavory stories. Foxconn agreed to raise wages and reduce working hours earlier this year, but the damage to Apple's image is already done. SNL's recent iPhone 5 skit proves as much.
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