iPod kerfuffle highlights China issues

Last week the British newspaper "Mail on Sunday" reported on Apple Computer's alleged exploitation of iPod manufacturing workers in southern China.

The Mail article seemingly represents original reporting on the paper's part, but it smells of a story idea fed to the paper by a nongovernmental organization (NGO).

It's a formula that works: piggy-back on the popular brand name or product of a multinational company; accuse the company and its North American management of exploiting poor, unfortunate workers in the developing world. Wait for the media to go crazy, get the general public indignant on an issue about which it otherwise doesn't care. Then watch the company announce some change to their labor policy, rather than face a boycott or other action.

Americans are particularly sensitive to companies' labor practices. A recent survey by public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard and the National Consumers League found "76 percent believe that a company's treatment of its employees plays a big role in consumer purchasing decisions."

This smash-mouth tactic works. It plagued Nike or years, when the sports clothing retailer botched its response to such accusations and came off looking like a slave driver.

The Mail spoke to staff at the Longhua plant, including an unnamed "security guard." In more than a decade as a reporter and editor, I've never interviewed or quoted a security guard in relation to the operations of a technology company.

The paper also said that "visitors from the outside world are not permitted." I suggest that the Mail reporters show up at a factory near their headquarters in London and see if they're allowed in, without an appointment or other business purpose. They can then write that "visitors from the outside world are not permitted" there either.

Before I joined this fine organization, I put some bread on my table through doing consulting on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Without naming names, a U.K.-based mobile services provider that until recently sponsored the Manchester United soccer team had bought about 2 percent of a Chinese mobile carrier that isn't China United Telecommunications. All of a sudden, they found themselves under attack by an NGO, claiming that the company's investment in China was supporting human rights violations in Tibet.

China is a growth market for NGOs just as much as it is for any technology company. China is a new market for more issues, more hearts and minds to win to the cause, new battlefields where skirmishes over environmental destruction, human rights, and the digital divide can be fought.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) found itself the subject of protests over its technology recycling programs, and other companies have been accused of dumping toxic tech waste here. To fend off just the kind of accusations leveled at Apple, HP announced earlier this month that it would initiate a contractor-education program, designed to teach best practices in labor and personnel management to its suppliers in China, including Foxconn.

If you do business in China, you may very well find yourself in the cross-hairs of such groups and similar reporting. Just when you thought outsourcing issues and government relations were sufficiently challenging, companies serious about a China presence must make CSR as high a priority as any other marketing or public relations function.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Steven Schwankert

IDG News Service
Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?