Apple CEO Tim Cook addressed the Foxconn controversy, attempting to allay concerns about the company’s ethics and reputation.
Cook, speaking to analysts at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco, specifically touched on the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s choice to order exhaustive public audits of Foxconn in the wake of several exploitation allegations and protests.
“We believe every worker has the right to a fair and safe work environment free of discrimination, where they earn competitive wages and can voice their concerns freely,” Cook said. “Apple’s suppliers must live up to this to do business with Apple.”
Cook’s remarks showcase crucial differences between the current CEO and late Apple boss Steve Jobs. Even during Jobs’ tenure, Apple weathered criticism about worker treatment at the Foxconn factories. Jobs was specifically called out for turning a blind eye to labor abuses, but he refuted the allegations, insisting that Foxconn’s conditions were better than the average in China.
Cook inherited an escalating situation, but his speech directly staked Apple’s position on the matters, showing an overt concern protestors likely wanted from Jobs. Cook’s statement to investors, however, came after reports of mistreatment at Foxconn circulated for a long time, and many will be watching Apple closely to see if it will address labor issues and remain true to its promise.
Still, Cook’s remarks highlight the company’s actions to improve conditions at the Chinese plant and illustrates how seriously the company is taking recent allegations. Apple’s efforts show the company wants to reassure investors and customers it adheres to ethically sound production principles.
Cook’s response speaks to the growing power of online organization and citizen reporting, since the bulk of outcries against Foxconn and, by association, Apple, originated online. Apple has previously changed policies following protests by Change.org and other online activist groups, but the Foxconn allegations are sweeping and require significantly greater changes for the company.
Apple is likely to adopt a more proactive approach to negative allegations in the future to keep up its reputation, as Cook reasserted Apple’s commitment to transparency in his speech. Cook spoke with intensity as he pledged to improve conditions, showcasing a compassionate streak liable to strengthen the company’s reputation in the long run, as Chinese living standards rise and allegations of abuse increase.