Photo: Illustration: Ellis Hamburger
Apple conquered China at least in part by learning to think like the Communist Party, writes Foreign Policy in a story.Apple is very successful there, in two respects: first as a consumer company–people are snapping up Apple gizmos like crazy–and second because of its world-class supply chain that is rooted deep in China.
Here’s how Apple got there, according to Foreign Policy:
- To sell devices, Apple made itself conformist. Apple’s image has always been about being rebellious. Turns out, that doesn’t play in China, where people be cool by being conventional. Apple’s usual ads didn’t play that well in China. So they pulled down the “Think Different” ads (and never ran the one with the Dalai Lama, for some reason) and gave Apple an image that’s cool, but not rebellious. Apple is marketing itself as a luxury goods company, which is fitting given that it’s products are very expensive compared to the Chinese standard of living. Like the Chinese Communist Party itself, it’s gone from rebellious to an aspirational brand.
- Apple’s secrecy means people get hurt. Foreign Policy tells the heart-rending story of a worker at an Apple supplier, Wintek, who has neurological damage because of a chemical used on iPhone screens. He says he can’t work, and has to pay his medical expenses out of pocket even though Apple says it is making sure affected workers recover. The broader problem is that Apple’s opaqueness about its supply chain makes it sure that problems happen. For example, it’s near impossible for NGOs to check that it’s doing what it says it’s doing in terms of working standards. And it’s not an extravagant claim: Chinese suppliers cut corners all the time and many Western companies agree it’s in their own interests to have third parties check up on them. Siemens, for example, provides a database of its suppliers to NGOs so they can check up on them. The story quotes a supply chain consultant as saying Apple is the only company with billions in cash that “[continues to work] with suppliers who have a clear record of failure to comply with Apple’s own codes of conduct.”
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