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Poor Working Conditions Putting Apple’s Reputation on the Line

Apple is feeling some rare backlash over a New York Times report that working conditions at supplier factories in China are reprehensible and downright dangerous to workers, including those that have been killed in explosions while making those beloved i-products.

PC World has a breakdown of criticism from the media, with calls for boycotts coming from different directions.

The NYT says it contacted Apple with lots of detail about the story it was working on and got a “no comment” from the company. Apple has a reputation for being tight-lipped, but here’s where they should’ve broken with that history to address these issues.

The article says, “The reporting is based on interviews with more than three dozen current or former employees and contractors, including a half-dozen current or former executives with firsthand knowledge of Apple’s supplier responsibility group, as well as others within the technology industry.”

These are reliable sources who obviously feel (as many others certainly do) that this is a problem that the company has not taken enough initiative to solve. They’ve released a list of suppliers, conducted audits, and in an email, CEO Tim Cook says worker mistreatment is against the company’s values and it’s investigating. But this isn’t enough coming from a company that reported billions in sales and profits just last week.

“[M]uch of the firm’s success rests on its reputation for ‘cool’ among hip urban professionals and a generally positive corporate image. Stories of worker abuse at Chinese firms are a direct threat to that winning combination,” says The Guardian.

Just this morning, we posted a story about research into citizenship and corporate reputation. Around the globe, countries and companies are falling short, though tech companies are getting points for innovation. Working in Apple’s favor is the crazy level of devotion that people feel for the company’s products. Also working for the company is the amount of influence it can exert on suppliers who don’t adhere to the standards that the company says it holds so dear.

Not so deep down, we know that companies are cutting corners to maximize profits. CNET does a good job of illustrating that. But just because a lot of companies are doing it, doesn’t mean everyone else should or will accept it.

Consumers have incredible power, even more when they collectively make their opposition known. With rumors of an upcoming iPad 3 and human lives on the line, Apple needs to take action and start talking about it pronto or the voices you hear will be those of angry former Apple customers.

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