Protest against Apple nothing more than a publicity stunt

I admit, I was a bit surprised when I received a press release on February 8 that a group of protesters were going to deliver a petition with 250,000 signatures to Apple demanding they respond to allegations of worker abuse in China.

I wondered if the group had done any homework at all. Do they not know that Apple is leading the industry in factory audits and its concerns for workers, not just in China, but all over the world?

The media swarmed the group when they delivered the petition. I didn’t understand that either. Surely the media knows what Apple is doing, but maybe that just got in the way of a sexy headline. You know that anything with “Apple” in the headline is going to draw attention, and it did.

The only problem with that is it doesn’t do much of anything. Apple is already conducting audits and being transparent about its findings and they have been doing this for a number of years. In fact, some of the information being used against Apple came from its own reports that it made public.

So if these protesters are really concerned about the workers in China, why not deliver that petition to the other companies that manufacture products at Foxconn. Where is the press release saying they were going to visit HP, Dell, Microsoft and others?

I emailed the PR guy Brett Abrams yesterday and asked him that. No response.

From the deafening silence, I have to assume that the group has no plans to deliver the petition to anyone else. Seems like nothing more than a publicity stunt to me.

To make matters even worse, the group on Monday took credit for news that Apple would have the Fair Labor Association (FLA) conduct special audits of Apple’s final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China.

The problem is that Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an email to employees four weeks ago that the company would have the FLA conduct these audits.

AppleInsider also posted a scathing review of the protesters and their claims this morning.

So the protesters did nothing. They got some attention for a couple of days, but when it came right down to it, they went for the sexy headline instead of actually doing anything substantive.



  • http://twitter.com/macnaticopr Macnatico_pr

    Yep.

  • Anonymous

    All protests are publicity stunts. they want to bring the public spotlight to something they don’t like.

    They could claim that Apple expanded it’s auditing & inspections by asking the FLA to do inspections, which Apple announced after the petition was delivered, but knowing Apple they already had that planned and just weren’t announcing it until all the ducks were aligned.

  • http://jawcl.com Jacob Penderworth

    Well spoken.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed

  • Anonymous

    “Seems like nothing more than a publicity stunt to me.”

    Of course it’s a publicity stunt. You don’t gather such a large group to deliver a petition unless you want A LOT of publicity for your cause. Do you honestly think a march on RIM or Motorola would get half the attention as a march on Apple?

    The reason they’re targeting Apple is because Apple is the most visible company in the world. Even though they’re getting better at cracking down on supply chain issues, they still have lots of room to improve.  So does every other company, but I don’t think that means we should totally excuse Apple for its supply chain issues just because they’ve fairly recently and after much coercion taken some positive steps to address them.

    Personally, I’d love to buy a more sustainable iPad and I look forward to the day when I can. In that regard, I fail to see the hypocrisy or shortsightedness of these particular actions.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      it’s hypocrisy because they word it as though apple is foxconn’s primary or only customer, when that’s not true. It’s hypocritical because they are giving every other foxconn customer a complete pass, and only hammering Apple.

      You never see these clowns even mention foxconn’s other customers. Hell, even when an incident happens at a Foxconn facility that doesn’t make Apple products, whose fault is it?

      Yeah. Apple.

      It’s also stupid because other than foxconn, who exactly, in less than a year could build this stuff on the scale Apple and everyone else needs?

      No hand-waving. The name of a company and a facility that could be ready to go with local component supplies in 365 days or less will do. Oh, and you’ll have to supply proof for your claim.

  • Anonymous

    If people want to make a difference, they’d make it so boards and shareholders can’t sue an American company for making positive ethical decisions that have a negative impact on the bottom line. Publicly traded corporations are legally required to make the decision that translates into the most profits. If it costs more to make a device in a place with a great labour record, and a company does so, they open themselves up to legal action.

    • http://twitter.com/leicaman leicaman

      Sorry, but that is a myth perpetrated by business people who don’t want to have to live up to social responsibilities. There is no law that says a company cannot be civilly, economically, socially or ecologically responsible in their business decisions. It’s time to stop giving this meme a pass.

      • sincarne

        I’m afraid both you and your liker are grossly misinformed.

        As explained by the LA Times, “California corporate law historically mandated that the interests of shareholders be paramount to those of all other parties in all circumstances,” but this law will legally shield corporate officers from shareholder lawsuits “who contend that company’s environmental or social policies diluted the value of their stock.”

        This is not the only such law on the books.

        http://www.kcet.org/updaily/socal_focus/economy/18-companies-register-as-benefit-corporations-under-new-california-law.html

      • sincarne

        I’m going to try again, since my last reply was eaten.

        You are incorrect. Six states have enacted benefit corporation legislation to protect corporations. Any corporation that is not registered as a benefit corporation is open to suits.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benefit_corporation

        No myth or meme there.

  • D Pauw

    The plus side is that stories like these help me weed out garbage “news” sites from my regular RSS reading list. If they don’t put an ounce of critical thought into their stories, why do I waste my time with them?

  • http://twitter.com/Moeskido Moeskido

    Reminds me of the witch-hunt Greenpeace staged a few years ago over toxic components. I’ll bet that was great for fund-raising, but it sure didn’t inform the public of the issue’s full context.

    • D Pauw

      Not to mention how the rankings varied wildly year to year for some companies due to the fact that most of these kinds of reports are based purely on how well the particular company sucked up to them/what empty promises they made.

  • blargh

    christ, I know you people report on Apple news, but do you really have to do their PR for them? Apple’s efforts to “improve” labor conditions amount to lip service. There’s still plenty of abuse at Apple’s factories (http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/20110924-islave-behind-the-iphone.pdf), The “independent” labor organization, FLA, isn’t really independent as their salaries are paid by the companies they audit and their track record isn’t good (an FLA-monitored nike factory was recently found to have withheld almost a million dollars worth of overtime pay). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/technology/critics-question-record-of-fair-labor-association-apples-monitor.html

  • Anonymous

    The point of these protests is to keep it in the public eye and keep people talking about them.  This is how socioeconomic changes are conducted, by keeping people talking about them.  Having a defensive reaction in favor of your favorite tech company smacks of blind favoritism.  Apple is in no way entirely without fault.  Nor are we, who buy the devices.  Apple is doing something about it.  You can to, by continuing to hold your favorite company accountable and to keep talking about this.  Working conditions need to get better in china, period.  They are better off than they once were, but they still have plenty of room for improvement.

    Do not be tempted to give Apple a pass just because they say they are inspecting things… hold them to account continually.  And don’t attack protesters who are doing nothing but their job and that is to remind us of our social responsibility to our fellow human being.  They have an excellent point, and the facts are warped because they have to be attention grabbing.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      Exactly what can apple FORCE? Nothing. the local government doesn’t care, and the company is in compliance with local laws. 

      Apple needs foxconn FAR more than Foxconn needs Apple.

      finally, there is never. Never. Ever. any excuse to “warp” facts, aka “lie” just to get attention. 

      • Anonymous

        Actually it seems like Apple is influencing things.  Workers working on Apple products get paid more than other lines at Foxconn.  And I think it’s incorrect to say that Apple needs Foxconn more than foxconn needs apple.  Apple is trying to open a factory in Texas even!  Foxconn is trying to open a factory in Brazil!  These are interesting developments on this subject.

        Warped was a poor choice of words on my part, because in fact, they aren’t being warped.  The wages and conditions in Foxconn compared to American factories is appalling.  That’s what people are protesting.  And that is in fact a fact.  It’s also a fact those workers are better off now than they were before foxconn hired them, but it’s still bad.  The protesters are protesting that conditions are not where they should be, which is entirely accurate.

        • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

          But you can’t compare wages in such different economies and expect parity. Hell, I live in Tallahassee FL, and I guarantee you my wage, which is rather fine for Tally, would barely get you a hovel in S.F. or LA. 

          Am I being underpaid? Not for my location. Even wages have to adjust for economic realities.

          As well, again, other than Foxconn, who exactly could apple move their manf. to without a multi-year delay? You seem to think they could “just do this” in a month, maybe three, and I really don’t think you have any comprehension of the scale you’re talking about.

          • deviladv

            I wasn’t comparing wages from the US and China.  I compared wages from other factory lines in the same company in the same country.  No where did I say I compared them to the US.  I said a factory was being opened in other countries, but that wasn’t to illustrate different wages, but to illustrate that Apple has more influence than you think.

            Your point about Foxconn and who could do it is irrelevant to my point, and you are even putting words in my mouth because I never said they could “just do this” in a month.  Go back and read my statements and tell me where I did.

            If you want to debate, please stop making things up that I did not say.

          • alx

            deviled 13 hours ago: “I wasn’t comparing wages from the US and China.”

            deviled 16 hours ago: “The wages and conditions in Foxconn compared to American factories is appalling.” Uh huh.

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            Actually, yes. You were comparing US and Chinese wages/conditions, rather specifically:

              The wages and conditions in Foxconn compared to American factories is appalling.  That’s what people are protesting.

             

            I understand reading fail, but try to remember your OWN words.

            also:

             I said a factory was being opened in other countries, but that wasn’t to illustrate different wages, but to illustrate that Apple has more influence than you think.

             

            and you have proof that they only reason that factory is being opened is for Apple? And you know what the wages/conditions for that factory will be? 

    • D Pauw

      Why would an excellent point require intentionally biasing the position?

      I ask this because as a scientist what you’re suggesting would be seen as extremely ethically suspect and likely not only get you fired but kicked out of science completely.

      • Anonymous

        Well I’m not a scientist, (I may be a skeptic and scientifically minded but I’m not in the science industry, I’m just some random talking head on the internet) but I address the issue of using the word “warped” in my reply above.  I will further add to that this isn’t the realm of science, it’s politics, but there’s still facts that support the position that this isn’t a publicity stunt (again see reply to above)

    • lucascott

      The trouble with those two groups is that Apple had already started the whole FLA thing weeks ago and didn’t need any push. But the groups still focused on Apple and not the other 70 or so Foxconn clients that haven’t shown they are doing or intend to do anything even after 100+ person suicide threat protests

  • Anonymous

    The thing I find strange is the one company who is responsible the most foxconn, seems to be getting off lightly, apple is just one of their many tech customers. I believe some people are genuinely concerned, but to me this whole affair has the hallmarks of one of apples rivals targeting apples supply chain. My dad when he was younger worked in a factory, he said it was one of the most soul destroying jobs he has ever had, I think if this was a truly genuine concern, it wouldn’t just be apple and foxconn that was being targeted.

  • http://twitter.com/tech_pint E.N. Collins

    Apple is a company that I have stood behind and supported for over 15 years and they may not be the only party implicated in this but they are a company I have come to expect more from in regards to issues such as this. The way they cleaned up their act environmentally was something to be applauded but as a US based company I feel that they have a duty to examine domestically based solutions for their current labor situation. Looking back at Steve Jobs statement to Barack Obama regarding the iPhone’s production in the USA “those jobs aren’t coming back” and then reinforcing that by stating America has been left behind is preposterous. As mentioned by “sincarne” above it may be that the board is demanding more profits and Apple has to make their decisions based on profits. If profits denote a product at the cost of human suffering then Apple has lost me as customer until something changes. I do not feel Apple has the resources to make a real change at Foxconn and this report will only show what Foxconn wants the world to see. There was a time when Apple prided themselves on having the flexibility to make decisions and carry that process across the board like a nimble upstart. There was a time when Apple built their goods in Cupertino and if Apple wants to keep their core loyal supporters that time needs to come again or else I see a coming consumer trend and backlash of people supporting companies producing an ethical product under fair labor standards and regulations at a higher price. As Charles and Ray Eames stated “Design is the appropriate combination of materials in order to solve a problem.” Apple as a company has always had the propensity to bring these two disciplines together and through this breed innovation. I hope the same can be applied to this issue and real change put into motion or else from a marketing standpoint Apple’s competition may have found its achilles heel. 

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      it’s not design. It’s manufacturing capability. Tell me, since you seem to know…exactly what US company in what state could create the number of skilled jobs and facilities that Apple requires in less than a year. Hell, in less than a decade.

      • http://twitter.com/tech_pint E.N. Collins

        “since you seem to know?” Sounds like a comment troll wants to be fed .. No Thanks..

        • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

          “Wait, you expect me to back up my assertions and claims with any form of data whatsoever? TROLL!”

          Don’t be sad, it’s the reply I expected, because the answer is “no one”.

          • http://twitter.com/tech_pint E.N. Collins

            Actually its an opinion and as much as I would like to go back find my sources, site them and quantify the current and future (5yr) projected US production trends I will opt out as it is a comment and an opinion which does not require proof to feed the troll – your view that such a change can not be completed in a decade is myopic but as you seem want to quantify this projection please explain to me your more than a decade contention - 

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            No, it’s actually based on:

            the current known size of Foxconn’s Apple  operations The number of component suppliers, such as corning, that have factories in that same specific area The number of people at all levels that we know are working there.

            Factor that in with the issues of replicating that in the US, including:

            taxes & local government approval environmental impact time lags in getting that many people hired and trained

            I don’t actually see how, in this country, you could rebuild the entire setup in China in less than five years. Maybe a decade. Keep in mind that to build the Sprint Center, an arena in Kansas City, which is a rounding error in terms of size and complexity took:

            2 years from groundbreaking to construction finish. 2-3 years of regulatory and governmental approval, including time for the ballot initiative that approved funding for part of the cost.

            So for a building that isn’t even close to the same scale, complexity and impact, it took two years to physically build it, and that same amount of time to get to the groundbreaking.

            Yet you’re going to duplicate the entire Foxconn + Suppliers set up in China over here in less time?

            No friggin’ way.

          • http://www.popwuping.com/ Clark

            For bad or worse, I have seen entire cities built here in the time it takes a building to be completed in the west.

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            Yes. In china. You may have noticed, China is a VERY different place than the USA. The fact you can do X in Y months there does not mean you can accomplish the same thing HERE.

  • http://twitter.com/HalSF Hal Espen

    There’s an interesting inversion in progress here, with comments that offer a helpful range of well-reasoned, nuanced, and insightful points, and the Dalrymple headline and post itself performing the role of cranky, semi-incensed, intolerantly framed troll comment. It’s upside-down cake time at The Loop.

  • http://twitter.com/leicaman leicaman

    It’s fundraising, not helping workers in China. What the heck does success in helping workers have to do with their long-term future as protesters?

    Same thing with Greenpeace and Apple. 

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  • http://www.newsloops.net/ Mark Rogers

    Apple’s response to this controversy, even if it is bogus in some ways, has certainly raised the bar for the industry. So in the end, it may do some good.

  • http://twitter.com/Kanjo Kanjo

    I think media should perform due diligence on all parts of this complex story, the Chinese government, the supply chain, US companies and the fair labor groups. In this day and age everybody has an agenda For example 25% of Foxcomm output is Apple, what about the other 75%? Are those companies doing more or less than Apple?

  • http://www.popwuping.com/ Clark

    Certainly Apple should have standards when dealing with it’s suppliers but this is a non-issue and all the protests in the world are not going to change a factory workers salary in China to that  of someone in the midwest. Canada just lost a Caterpillar plant to Indiana because the labor was cheaper – perhaps they should protest to the poor working conditions there. I wonder how far that would go?

    Foxconn workers are as happy as anyone living away from home, working on a factory line for an above average salary. And this isn’t factory work like the days of yore – it’s mind numbing not back breaking. I have a  manager from Foxconn at my house every couple of weeks. She complains about her work like we all do. Like all people over here in this industry she works hard, perhaps too hard, but to say she or her team work under abusive or unfair conditions is misinformed. None of them are slaves or without opportunity. They want to work there because it’s good work. Maybe not ‘I work at a desk at a PR agency in New York’ kind of work but good work nonetheless.