A Study of Stuff


Why we created Dong Xi

In the fall of 2018, I stumbled upon a Hacker News thread about Apple's most recently published supplier list. The thread was active (it now contains over a hundred replies), with subtopics ranging from Taiwanese national identity to how even enormous contract manufacturers exist in popular obscurity.

While I agreed with the commentary ("There is so much information here," began the OP) I found Apple's presentation to be inscrutable. The PDF document presented an abstracted and disconnected view into their supply chain, providing data that was neither consistent, nor accurate, nor complete. Previous years' reports were even worse, containing typos and varying in their presentation and nomenclature. Worse yet, Apple seems to delete every years' report when the subsequent one is published - making it hard to understand how their supply chain is developing over time and leaving a concerned consumer (or competitor) to instead trust the greenwashed generalities presented in Apple's beautiful sustainability reports.

It left me to wonder. What was Apple's supplier list really for? And if someone wanted to truly understand - and assess the impact of - Apple's supply chain, what additional information would be needed?

Dong xi attempts to answer those questions.

Apple sells hundreds of millions of devices a year. Their CEO, Tim Cook, is often credited as a supply chain visionary. Known for their on-the-ground presence at contract manufacturers' facilities, Apple apparently spends $150 million dollars per year on airfare from just one airline. The organization has their supply chain locked down, and they're more than willing to invest time and money in understanding it.

And yet, as it turns out, the information density in their supplier lists is sparse. They fail to specify whether a particular facility is supplying components or services; they don't provide hyperlinks to suppliers' own transparency data; they don't say what products or even product categories a given supplier worked on. Apple's recent reports are just lists of company names and addresses, many of which are incomplete or inaccurate. Their first supplier list, published in 2012, contains only company names.

What would drive anyone to spend the time to copy and paste names and addresses into a search bar to reconstruct a snapshot of Apple's supplier list? And once that work was done, how many browser tabs would it take to understand how an iPhone comes to life - let alone how that process has changed through the years?

Dong xi is devoted to truly understanding supply chains like Apple's. We provide tools to visualize, assess, and track manufacturers who make the most complex - and the most ubiquitous - products in the world.

Over the coming months, we'll be writing here about what we've reconstructed from Apple's supplier lists - and introducing a series of tools to compare Apple with other manufacturers. These companies have enormous footprints; Dong xi's mission is to enable them to be understood.

We look forward to sharing what companies like Apple rarely do.

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