Tim Cook Responds To ‘Offensive’ Claims About Factory Worker Mistreatment

Tim Cook Responds To ‘Offensive’ Claims About Factory Worker Mistreatment

Following a lengthy New York Times report published earlier this week, detailing the harsh reality behind the mistreatment of Chinese factory workers, Apple CEO Tim Cook has responded to his staff with an email that brands the report “patently false and offensive.”

Cook revealed he is “outraged” by the report, and reassured his team that “we’ve made a great deal of progress and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers.”

The NYT’s report was based on over a dozen interviews with former Apple executives, in addition to “economists, manufacturing experts, international trade specialists, technology analysts, academic researchers, employees at Apple’s suppliers, competitors and corporate partners, and government officials.” All of whom reported that while the Cupertino company has worked to improve working conditions in Chinese factories, it could do more if it didn’t allow its secrecy and business goals to get in the way.

But Tim Cook believes the report is far from accurate, and in an email to his team, passed on to 9to5Mac, he branded it “offensive” to the company. The lengthy email begins:

As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are. For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am. For the people who aren’t as close to the supply chain, you have a right to know the facts.

Cook goes on to reassure Apple staff that it is doing all it can to raise the bar for its partners within the supply chain, and that no one else in the industry is doing as much as Apple:

“Every year we inspect more factories, raising the bar for our partners and going deeper into the supply chain. As we reported earlier this month, we’ve made a great deal of progress and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers. We know of no one in our industry doing as much as we are, in as many places, touching as many people.”

“We are focused on educating workers about their rights, so they are empowered to speak up when they see unsafe conditions or unfair treatment. As you know, more than a million people have been trained by our program.”

“We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues. What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word.

Cook concludes by pointing Apple staff to the Supplier Responsibility page of the company’s website, where its progress can be monitored. He also explains to workers that the job they do for Apple is significant, and that they are changing people’s lives.

[via 9to5Mac]

  • ddevito

    Why is Apple the only company getting grilled about this? Lots of companies use the same factories, no?

    The price of success I guess

  • Honyant

    Lots of companies are using worse factories according to Chinese responses being reported in an article on AppleInsider.

  • Sean Smith

    Because this is America where it is now “cool” to tear down successful people and companies.

  • Greg Johnson

    Yes, many companies use foreign factories with supposedly horrid working conditions. It was that way in the U.S. for a time. Fortunately, people got tired of it and vocalized their needs.

    Would be wonderful to know that they outsourced foreign labor to help other parts of the world by providing these jobs, but please, reality check.

    You heard him. Saving this article for future reference. Now lets hold him to his word. I just hope that there is the difference between Apple officials and candidate elects when it come to this.

  • kyerussell

    It’s easy enough for the guys at the top to say this stuff, but it’s a different job all-together to make sure it happens.  Anyone that works at a large company (esp. with entry-level workers) (e.g. me) knows that once the policies.etc filter down to the people that matter (in this case, the factory workers) the policies aren’t usually enforced to the level that the company’s executives would like.  People have superiors yelling at them from all directions; I’m employed at a large consumer electronics retailer in Australia that’s owned by a (publicly owned) company that owns a supermarket chain, generic ‘department store’ chain, a home improvement chain.etc  Basically what I’m getting at is that the company is extremely big and all it takes is one manager that doesn’t honor the policies to the level that the head executives would like or even worse doesn’t honor them at all.  Unless the CEO of a company goes directly to EVERY employee personally and provides them with a direct contact method if ANYTHING goes wrong, the CEO won’t have things work out how they’d like them too.  It’s an unfortunate truth, but truth nonetheless.

  • Len Williams

    Years ago when I went to high school I worked as assistant editor, then editor of our school newspaper. Each year several of the staff were sent to an “Editor’s Workshop” featuring classes given by newspaper and media professionals. One year in a class given by a top reporter, he impressed us with the fact that a reporters job was to “find the conflict” and report on it. Instead of just reporting what we observed, we were supposed to find the tension, the point and counterpoint, the for and the against, and this was what sold newspapers. He even told us that sometimes you had to work to find, or even create, the conflict to make the story interesting. I always keep that in mind when I read “journalism”. 

    Apple is, now, a highly successful company that produces great products that are loved by a large percentage of the peoples of Earth. Since the early days of Guy Kawasaki’s evangelism I’ve always been impressed with Apple’s “Do the right thing” ethical approach. For me, personally, Apple has frequently gone beyond normal standards to make sure I was pleased with its service and repairs. I’ve had repairs done at no charge on out of warranty products, I’ve had replacements provided at no cost when there was a delay, I even had my old 1GB iPod nano first gen replaced with a refurbished 8GB 6th gen nano recently, completely free! In 23 years I’ve found that Apple keeps its word for me personally, so I believe Tim’s statement that he and his staff are working hard to improve working conditions for its foreign manufacturing partners.

  • nolavabo

    The way to measure how good or bad a job is relative to other available jobs in a given economy is to gauge the number of applicants for each position. Foxconn has absolutely no problem filling their vacancies, thus it must be concluded that work conditions are not harsh by Chinese standards.

    Exactly the same work conditions would be completely unacceptable in America (leaving aside the illegality for now). Everybody, even the most unreasonable critics, recognises that you could not get Americans to accept the same conditions. But conflating these two metrics is both ignorant and stupid.

    I must say that I find it terribly offensive that the term slave labor keeps getting thrown around. Slavery is having no self-determination or freedom at all – and you certainly don’t get a wage of any sort. The workers who assemble Apple products are amongst the best paid at Foxconn; they are paid more than those who assemble Microsoft, Samsung, Dell, HP, etc products. They are above average paid by national standards as well. Equating above average, or even average work conditions, to slave labor is to horrendously disrepect the suffering of those who endured (and endure) true slavery.

  • Al

    What I find offensive is that the most valuable company in the world with nearly $100bln in the bank (Apple) pays its Chinese workers almost the same piss poor wages as those cobbling together some cheap Acer netbook.

    Please keep your word Mr Cook. Improve things and make Apple brilliantly outshine everyone else in this issue.

  • Dada Guerilla

    Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

    Believing the data and the evidence is more reasonable than trusting the word of an executive with a vested economic interest in the status quo. Even if the executive is Tim Cook, and the company is Apple.
    If Tim Cook is right and there are no significant issues with working conditions at Foxconn and others in Apple’s supply chain, then why are there nets preventing workers from jumping off of buildings to commit suicide? Why is Foxconn requiring workers to sign “no suicide” agreements as conditions of employment? Why would there be any issues at all to report on? And why the disproportionately emotional response on Cook’s part?

    Economic history is on the side of those who believe there are issues with working conditions in China with Apple’s suppliers. Every capitalist economy has undergone a period where capitalists exploit workers to extract greater profit from their operations. China is no different, except perhaps culturally workers may be easier to exploit than their historical counterparts in the U.S. and England over the past 200 years, and companies like Apple, who require extreme flexibility in their supply chain, may perhaps be fueling this exploitation with their extreme demands on their suppliers.

    It may not be reasonable to completely assign China’s comparative advantage in manufacturing to more flexible workers and more effective public-private partnerships, and conversely, inflexible and unskilled American workers and lack of manufacturing infrastructure. It may also be due to outright exploration of labor. After reading about how Foxconn operates its business, I wonder how many Americans would be willing to live in military-style barracks, work 12-hour shifts 5-6 days a week, and permit themselves to be roused en masse in the middle of the night to meet the demands of a capricious supplier.

    Trust in data and the evidence, not in assurances and promises from executives and managers. I for one would like to see more data, and I applaud the NYTimes for taking on the task of reporting on the underbelly of capitalism in a country thousands of miles away.

  • prof_peabody

    You don’t know what you are talking about.  Apple is almost the *only* tech company doing any kind of work in this area at all.  They have the best record and are actively committed to doing more.  

    Direct your anger at Samsung, HP, Acer and Asus.  All of the factories they use have far worse conditions than Foxconn, and they have no program in place to audit the factories and no commitment to do anything about the problem.  

    I guess it’s easier to criticise Apple but it makes no sense to go after the only company that is actually doing anything about the problem and the one that operates the most humane, clean and controlled factories in China.  

    The problem is that stupid westerners with no knowledge of the situation go to China and find that a Foxconn factory is not as nice as a GM plant in Boston.  They fail to look to either side and see that in China, Foxconn is a paradise compared to the rest.  

  • Daniel Harris

    The main problem I had with the report is that it targets one company when out sourcing to poorer countries is something done by all electronics companies and therefor is necessary to compete in the market. 

    Americans have forgotten that it’s only in the last century that we got decent working conditions and yet somehow we expect that all the poorer countries of the world should have kept up with our relatively recent advance. It’s unrealistic.

  • Figurative

    I am sure if you asked the Foxconn workers they would tell the bleeding heart liberals to shut up. Before, these people worked in rice paddies and in really shameful living conditions.  They slept on dirt floors and received little in the way of healthcare.  Apple even paid Foxconn more to give their workers a raise.  Any time you have millions of workers moved from an agricultural work environment to an mechanical assembly environment I’m sure there are going to be some workers who have problems adjusting.  Here’s a question…  What percentage of the Foxconn workforce have committed suicide and how does that compare to the general population?   Hmmm?

  • Alex

    Mit is that you ? 

  • Alex


    I am sure if you asked the Foxconn workers they would tell the bleeding heart liberals to shut up. “

    You know this how ?  Or does it just make meek you feel better to think that ?

  • InkyDavid

    As a long-time customer/enabler, I’m not buying Mr. Cook’s spin. He talks about Apple’s ethics, but doesn’t address the specific allegations in the New York Times article.  Instead of countering the allegations with facts, he’s using lofty ideals and indignation. Looks suspicious. Not that I envy his position of having to defend the indefensible.

  • Bob Forsberg

    Tim, welcome to the world of liberal half truths and outright lies. Even Apple isn’t above America’s socialist paper of record’s desire to create controversy where none exists.

  • Lisa Disterheft

    Supposedly horrid? You can’t even begin to understand the working conditions of the average Chinese laborer — 12 hour days, 2 days off a month, NO SAFETY MEASURES [filter masks, gloves, etc.]. And ‘educating them’ is a nice pablum companies feed themselves to assuage their guilt.  With rare exception, Chinese laborers are very poorly educated rural immigrants who don’t even understand the so-called ‘education’ they are given. They listen attentively, haven’t the foggiest what is being told to them, nod their heads obediently, and then go back to to their rote work without any more understanding of what they are doing or why than before the mandatory education program. Their lack of education frequently causes them to shed any protective measures provided to them because it ‘slows them down being productive,’ having no idea that exposure to the various hazardous chemicals will shorten their lives — significantly. Read “Poorly Made in America,” “The China Price,” and “Will the Boat Sink the Water,” all make this case very clearly if you don’t take my word for it as an anonymous writer from the internet.

About the author

Killian BellKillian Bell is a staff writer based in the U.K. He has an interest in all things tech and also covers Android over at CultofAndroid.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell.

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