Apple’s Controversial Success in China

Civil society highlights company's questionable practices

Apple products are becoming coffeehouse fixtures in China more than three years after the company opened the doors of its first store in Beijing. In a recently published piece, Foreign Policy’s Christina Larson reports on how the company has taken China by storm, despite questionable procurement practices and pushback from Chinese civil society.

Apple currently has hundreds of licensed resellers in China as well as four full-fledged Apple stores with plans to open another one on the mainland and its first Hong Kong store in the near future. Lines often snake out the door of these retailers with customers waiting to buy their piece of the Apple ideology. In China, this means scrapping Orwellian "1984" ad campaigns stoking the flames of rebellion and instead focusing on a different kind of dream: luxury.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about the lifestyle Apple is selling. Representatives from China’s growing civil society groups criticize the tech giant for its procurement practices, which involve contractors in China that have less than pristine track records. Additionally, critics draw attention to the company’s lack of transparency and overall inattention to labor and environmental enforcement from their supply chain. FP’s Larson draws a comparison between Apple’s successes in China and the company's growing similarity to the Chinese Communist Party.

To be sure, many tech companies have and will continue to come under fire for questionable procurement practices. However, Larson says that what sets Apple apart is its "sluggishness in responding to complaints and its secretiveness about just which factories are in its supply chain." A report from a coalition of Chinese NGOs ranked Apple the worst company, out of 29, in responding to pollution and safety concerns. With regards to one questionable contractor, Apple directed Larson to its Supplier Responsibility: 2011 Progress Report.

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