Apple in China: Red, Delicious and Rotten

Foreign Policy’s Christina Larson suggests that while Apple is enjoying great success in China, its behaviour has been more Chinese Communist Party than Dalai Lama:

About three years ago, … Cupertino rolled up its sleeves and began to focus on cracking the China market. Apple staffed up its Beijing office, opened its first store in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and rethought its marketing scheme; in Chief Operating Officer Cook’s words: “We wanted to understand that market and understand the levers there.”

The result is that Apple’s image in China now emphasizes not rebellion, but luxury — or as Wolf puts it, “exclusivity.” Its gorgeous glass-walled stores are located next to high-end clothing boutiques like Armani, Versace, and BMW Lifestyle. Apple is seen as the choice of “top white-collar professionals,” as stylish 30-something Lily Ou told me, glancing up from a row of brightly colored iPhone cases at Beijing’s Sanlitun Apple Store. Ou is a sales manager for an international food distributor. “I like to show off my Apple identity,” she said ….

In recent years, Apple’s Chinese suppliers have been involved in a string of labor and environmental infractions …. Apple is hardly alone among international companies with Chinese factories in having problems arise from the practices of its suppliers. But what makes Apple singular, say Chinese environmental and labor rights activists, is its sluggishness in responding to complaints and its secretiveness about just which factories are in its supply chain.

According to Ma [Jun, of NGO group the Green Choice Alliance], most multinational companies go through an evolution in dealing with complaints presented by Chinese civil society groups …. Apple, however, has stayed resistant, fighting off attempts by others to uncover whether factories where workers have been poisoned or where pollution is extreme are their suppliers. “They said, it’s our long-term policy not to disclose our supply chain,” Ma told me. “So no one can make any public scrutiny? No one can really know what is really happening?”

See more Apple coverage on CDT, including posts on the Green Choice Alliance’s transparency study and Apple’s 2011 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report.

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