Written by Jonny Williamson
Taking over the role of Apple’s Chief Executive from the late Steve Jobs, Tim Cook has quickly achieved something his predecessor always seemed reticent to do himself – visit China, a hub of potential market expansion and home to many of the company’s suppliers.
During his visit Cook met with many high-ranking officials in the Chinese government to discuss a greater investment in the region and promote future growth. Currently Apple only has five stores in mainland China and one in Hong Kong, surprising when you consider China has the world’s largest mobile market.
Previously Apple has lost ground to rivals Samsung regarding smartphone sales in China and, as yet, hasn’t released the latest incarnation of it iPad tablet. It is expected that a host of new retail outlets will be opened in the country over the next twelve months.
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Cook has also used his time in China to visit the Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park, a collection of production and assembly plants collectively employing over 120,000 employees. Producing models for Apple’s iPhone and iPad range, Foxconn made headlines earlier in the year when a spate of employees committed suicide, a decision thought to be driven by poor working conditions.
At the start of Cook’s visit an activist group, named The Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, published an open letter to Apple. The Hong Kong based group demanded that the company “ensures decent working conditions at all its suppliers” and an end to “poverty wages and excessive and/or forced overtime.” Workers allegedly describe their daily routine as work, eat and sleep, calling themselves machines that repeat the same monotonous motion thousands of times a day. The letter concludes, “with all its success in the global marketplace, Apple undoubtedly has (the) ability to rectify these problems.”
In response to the the alleged poor working-conditions at Foxconn, Cook sent a company-wide email stating:
"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.”
Following a report by America’s Fair Labour Association, Apple and Foxconn bosses have now agreed to reduce working hours, improve health and safety conditions and establish a genuine voice for workers.