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Apple’s Sweatshops: Damage-control Strategies in PR (Part II)

Apple’s Sweatshops: Damage-control Strategies in PR (Part II)

By Carole Bersillon, Intern

Last week after the publication of a New York Times article documenting problems inside many of Apple factories, I concluded my blog post with these words: “In any case, PR and communication will play a decisive role because they are the voice of the company and the article created an expectation among readers, being fans or not: what will Apple reply?”

Less than a week later, an answer can be found. The article generated a great number of comments online (1,770 comments on the NYT website). Despite that, the potential controversy was lost into general considerations about our society and consumption: many commentators pointed out the fact that most of the daily products we use are made in China or in countries where working conditions can be a problem. Thus, leading to the conclusion that we should inquire about manufacturing conditions for each single product we use.

However, Apple replied. A subtle and indirect reply through a letter by Tim Cook, CEO, sent to all his employees. Apple used a wise admission strategy, acknowledging responsibilities. In Cook’s letter, the company proclaims transparency as a core value, problems do exist but the company addresses them.

“Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern.”

“We are attacking problems aggressively.”

Transparency is also conveyed through direct claims of exemplary behavior like “For the people who aren’t as close to the supply chain, you have a right to know the facts” or “This will lead to more frequent and more transparent reporting on our supply chain, which we welcome.”

Another aspect of Apple’s admission strategy is to acknowledge the attacks but undervaluing them. Tim Cook doesn’t quote his opponents (referring to them as “some people”) and diminishes the attack as “suggestions”. Moreover, he reinforces his credibility by quoting measures taken by Apple and naming supporting and trustworthy authorities. “Earlier this month we opened our supply chain for independent evaluations by the Fair Labor Association.” Adding the personal commitment of the CEO, “On this you have my word”, it makes it hard to question Apple’s honesty (at least claimed honesty).

The letter to Apple’s employees also maintains the group’s unity by using the pronoun “we” and referring to a common identity. It aims at showing that the company is one voice and there is nothing like a gap between privileged headquarters and suffering manufacturing workers. Finally, the references to the workers and appeals to pathos (“For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am.”) put a human face to Apple, standing far from capitalist and exploitative multinational companies that do exploit their workers.

Apple’s reply was unique and the company declined to comment on the article or the memo released by Tim Cook. It could be reproached with being silent when there was a lot of noise around it about its values and products. However, by keeping silent and speaking through one powerful and clear voice assuming responsibilities, Apple managed to nip the potential crisis in the bud. The debate is closed.

See also the very interesting article by Forbes: “Does Apple Really Care?”

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