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iSweatshop?

An article in England’s Mail on Sunday last weekend claimed that workers in some Chinese iPod factories are essentially treated like slaves: prohibited from having visitors to their dormitories, forced to work 15-hour shifts, and paid just under $50 a month. Apple is now investigating the sweatshop allegations and says it won’t tolerate violations of its supplier code of conduct.

Can bad press—make that really bad press—thwart a company’s plan for world domination? Probably not, especially at Apple, which works hard and pays big to promote its brand as much as its products. But Apple needs damage control, and fast, before its customers start feeling guilty while they rock out on the subway. Each glitch in the PR machine, after all, is an opportunity for competitors. Just yesterday, Singapore-based Creative Technology, Ltd., the world’s second-place MP3 player maker, announced that the International Trade Commission is investigating whether Apple’s iPod infringes on a Creative copyright.

The good press is very good—like in April, when Apple was named one of the Sierra Club’s “Forward Green Leaders.” But it seems dangerous for a company to publicize accolades for things the bigwigs know about (reduced energy usage, more efficient packaging) and defer blame for problems that supposedly go unrecognized (inhumane treatment of overseas workers). Consumers love a clean conscience, so it’s in Apple’s interest to make people not only buy iPods, but feel good about doing it.FCS