… Is there substance to Apple's new approach to China or
is it PR Spin?
When it comes to addressing a company crisis there are all kinds
of nuances to consider when deciding on a PR strategy. Multiple
factors come into play, not least legal considerations and impact
on share price (if the company is listed).
But to put things in their most simple terms - and this is often
how the outside world sees things - there really are two
approaches. Batten down the hatches and weather the storm, or get
out and take on the issue head-first. Neither is right or wrong and
are entirely dependent on the circumstances and mitigating
For some years it seems as though Apple - the world's most
valuable corporation - has adopted the former of these two
strategies when addressing fierce criticism over the treatment of
workers in its Chinese factories. Accusations that Apple and its
partners in China - in particular Foxconn - have repeatedly broken
human rights and employment law have been made on numerous
In February 2011 Foxconn opened the doors of its Shenzhen plant
to Joel Johnson of Wired.
The decision to let a journalist tour the plant was part of a PR
attempt to counteract the widespread negative PR caused by a
highly-alarming spate of suicides (11 in total) at the facility.
The resulting article was certainly not a PR puff-piece and
presented a very balanced account of what Johnson saw in Shenzhen -
the good, the bad and the ugly.
However, this week saw Apple dramatically step-up its attempts
to address the ongoing issue of its operations in China. In an
Apple CEO Tim Cook visited China (something Steve Jobs never did)
and went to the Zhengzhou Technology Park, where a staggering
120,000 people are employed. Cook announced that Apple will work
with Foxconn to improve conditions, the measures
tens of thousands of new workers
down on illegal overtime
Improving safety protocols
Upgrading worker housing
Cook's visit coincided with the publication of a damning report
published by the
Fair Labor Association which amongst other issues found that,
more than 43% of workers reported experiencing or witnessing an
accident at the three plants audited and also, health and
safety breaches included blocked exits, lack of or faulty personal
protective equipment and missing permits.
The Fair Labor Association Report has received widespread
coverage in national press today. But by arranging Cook's visit to
China to co-ordinate with the publication of the report, means that
many of the articles seem more balanced and nearly all lead with
the photos of Cook - in a yellow jacket - touring the plants and
'getting his hands dirty'. As the old adage goes 'a picture paints
a thousand words' and the site of the CEO on the shop floor is
infinitely more beneficial for Apple than pictures of 'battery
farm-style factories' and over-burdened workers.
So is this a shift in strategy for Apple and more importantly
has it worked… time will tell. We welcome your thoughts and
comments on this subject.