Whimsical Branding Obscures Apple’s Troubled Supply Chain

Ipod-NanoSuicide at Foxconn. Poisoned workers. Colluding to inflate the price of e-books. Tax evasion (albeit, legal). Shady suppliers who can’t toe the line of labor or environmental laws in China. Apple’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years, but it sales have continued to climb. How does Apple maintain its economic dominance in light of such powerful scandals? With an exceptionally strong brand that taps into our hopes and cultivates positive emotions. Read the full article at Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing.

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Underage Workers, Forced Internships, School Closures, and “Left-Behind Children”: Apple’s Impact on China’s Youth

Students at Renda Fuzhong Xishan school use an iPad in the classroom.
Students at Renda Fuzhong Xishan school use an iPad in the classroom. Published on Apple’s website.

Apple has long considered itself a renegade, a breaker of conventions, and a change-maker, and education has been a realm in which it seeks to have a revolutionary impact. Apple is well-known for its long-standing presence in classrooms, and its executives maintain, “Education is in our DNA.”

Apple is proud of its relationships with schools, as shown by the company’s robust education section of their website. While researching Apple’s education customers for my previous post, “The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Apple,” one customer profile, which includes a short film, caught my attention.

The “Apple in Education Profile” of Renda Fuzhong (RDFZ) Xishan in Beijing, China, explains that a revolution in education is underway in the country, thanks in part to use of Apple’s MacBook Pro and iPad in the school’s 7-9th grade classrooms. Breaking from what is described as the dysfunctional Chinese educational model focused on “core knowledge” and “rigorous testing,” with the help of Apple products the school has implemented a successful new model that promotes “personal growth, creativity, and innovation.”

The description of the school’s “experimental” model of education resonates with contemporary American values and trends present in Apple’s marketing. In my study with Gabriela Hybel of over 200 Apple commercials that have aired in the US since 1984, we found that one of the key themes that courses through them is that Apple products allow their users to cultivate and express intellectual and artistic creativity. A video profile of the school and its program resonates with this theme, and provides an inspiring take on the what Apple means to the youth of China (Note: Please watch the video! Doing so will allow you to see for yourself the great contrast in how students from different backgrounds experience Apple).

As I read the profile of RDFZ and watched the video about the school, I couldn’t help but think that this did not seem to be an accurate depiction of what Apple means to the youth of China. While I certainly think it is great for these students that they are receiving a top-notch and technologically innovative education, a little research revealed that RDFZ Xishan is considered the most prestigious school in Beijing. While it is described by Apple as a public school, it is the sister school of Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire–both exclusive private schools. The middle school is a part of the RDFZ high school, which funnels students to the most elite universities in China, the UK, and the US. It is also a part of the G20 Schools, a collection of elite and mostly private secondary schools around the world. In short, this school serves the children of Beijing’s wealthy elite–a minuscule portion of China’s youth.

When we think about what Apple means to the youth of China, we have to consider not only the privileged few who might benefit from using the company’s products in the classroom, but the hundreds of thousands of young workers assembling Apple products in factories throughout the country. Their experience of Apple is vastly different from that of the students of RDFZ Xishan. A recent report from China Labor Watch, which details numerous violations of Chinese labor laws and the employment of minors at Apple suppliers, makes this fact shockingly clear.

Continue reading Underage Workers, Forced Internships, School Closures, and “Left-Behind Children”: Apple’s Impact on China’s Youth

Unpacking the Balikbayan Box: Transnational Pilipino Families in Global Perspective

A guest post by Kimberley Africa

Standing next to the balikbayan box my parents just sent in June 2013.
Standing next to the balikbayan box my parents just sent in June 2013.

Ever since I can remember, I have watched my mom and dad fill a huge box with clothes, towels, Spam, shoes, nonperishable foods, and a countless number of other things until they could fit no more. I remember looking into the box and wishing that the huge container of Nesquik were in my hands instead of being cradled by Tang and powdered iced tea. My parents explained that they sent the box to my cousins in the Philippines because they didn’t have all that we had. I always frowned at this, because we definitely did not have chocolate milk mix in the cupboards.

Space is precious. Once my parents made sure that there was no empty crevice left in the box, they would start the closing process. This is a ritual that I have watched so many times: my mom’s and dad’s hands work simultaneously to close the box. Sometimes they ask one of us kids to help. Their experience in packing boxes is clear in their quickness and accuracy. But, taping the top of the box is just the beginning. My dad then grabs a black permanent marker and writes his brother’s address on each side of the box, save the bottom. Then, he wraps the entire surface of the box in clear packing tape to ensure its security on its transoceanic voyage.

“Do they make you tape the entire box?” I once asked. “No, but this is how I can make sure your cousins get everything,” my dad replied.

Continue reading Unpacking the Balikbayan Box: Transnational Pilipino Families in Global Perspective

The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Apple

Workers assemble iPhones at a Foxconn facility in Shenzhen, China.
Workers assemble iPhones at a Foxconn facility in Shenzhen, China.

Blame Mike Daisey. He drew me into this mess of a research project with his appearance on This American Life in January 2012. Like many, I was enraptured and sickened by his description of the work conditions and lives of young Chinese laborers at the Foxconn facility in Shenzhen, China that assembles iPhones, and now iPads. What I learned in that podcast made me angry, as both an owner of Apple products and as a critical sociologist who focuses on globalization and labor. Daisey’s account of conditions at Foxconn and the experiences of Chinese workers sparked my initial cursory investigation into Apple’s supply chain and their stance on corporate social responsibility, by way of the their annual Supplier Responsibility Reports. Then, a couple of months later, This American Life aired a retraction episode that revealed that Daisey had fictionalized his account. While host Ira Glass noted that nothing Daisey said was actually untrue, he had not seen all that he said he had, but rather had folded into his monologue the documented accounts of others. Glass, and many Apple consumers, seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief, and the affair was rather quickly swept under the rug by the consuming public and the press.

These events made me deeply curious about the brand power of Apple. I wondered, how does a company that receives such bad press persist in its popularity? How could it be that, rather than taking a hit in the aftermath of a vicious exposé of labor conditions at their suppliers, Apple revenues surged and broke records throughout 2012? So, I embarked on a really big research project–bigger, more complex, and vastly more difficult than any project I have ever delved into before. I seek to identify all of Apple’s suppliers, map their supply chain, illuminate their financial structure, and understand their brand power here in the US and around the world. While I have a couple of lengthier and more in-depth pieces on this research in the works that will be published in a few months, I wanted to share with you some highlights from the research thus far. Here we go.

Continue reading The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Apple