The New York Times celebrated Apple CEO Tim Cook as a beacon of moral and social responsibility in an article published Monday, but the tech company’s questionable activities in China were noticeably absent from the column.
“I think we have a moral responsibility to help grow the economy, to help grow jobs, to contribute to this country and to contribute to the other countries that we do business in,” Cook told TheNYT.
The CEO’s comment could be interpreted a number of different ways. On one hand, Apple has definitely contributed to China’s progress, creating millions of jobs and fostering economic development. On the other hand, the tech company has repeatedly advanced the Chinese government’s political objectives — not necessarily for the good of the world or the Chinese people — in order to maintain a position in a market where it has made enormous amounts of money.
China is Apple’s second largest market, and that has given Beijing significant leverage to make demands of Apple. The company has acquiesced to these requests on many occasions and capitulated to the Chinese government, suppressed internet freedom at times, and sacrificed principle for profit in the process.
Apple removed The New York Times app from its Chinese app store at the beginning of the year, complying with demands from Chinese government regulators. In June, the company announced that it is building a data center in China to adhere to the country’s strict new cybersecurity laws, which give the country the ability to seize information on possible political dissidents and potentially pilfer foreign technology. The data center is expected to have Communist Party of China oversight. Apple also removed Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), software essential for Chinese users who desire internet freedom and the ability to jump “the Great Firewall of China,” from its app store late last month, capitulating to the Chinese government. (RELATED: While Trashing Trump, Apple Is Selling Its Soul To Do Business In China)
Cook has indicated that his company needs to be active on the ground in order to make change in China.
“I’ve never found being on the sideline a successful place to be,” the CEO told Apple employees at a meeting last year. “The way that you influence these issues is to be in the arena. So whether it’s in this country, or the European Union, or in China or South America, we engage. And we engage when we agree, and we engage when we disagree. I think it’s very important to do that because you don’t change things by just yelling. You change things by showing everyone why your way is the best.”
But it appears that instead of successfully pushing China towards more progressive ideals, Apple is conceding to continue massive profitability.
The tech conglomerate has been operating in China for years, as Cook was largely responsible for setting up the company’s supply chains in China years before he took over for the late Steve Jobs. Apple is not only manufacturing and assembling products in China, but it is also selling hundreds of millions of products to Chinese consumers each year. (RELATED: Power And Billions Of Dollars: Apple’s Deal With China And Why They Did It)
Apple’s partners in China have come under fire on numerous occasions for extensive human rights violations at factories producing Apple products, including strings of suicides due to undesirable working conditions. Cook sits on the board of directors at a human rights foundation, but the organization is not involved in work on China.
In fairness to Cook and Apple, the company has taken steps to correct some of these issues, but critical reports continue to surface from various human rights organizations.
“China already does these things [restrict the internet] and U.S. companies have already acquiesced, in many instances, to their structure and that’s extremely problematic,” Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said at the recent Tech Policy Institute Aspen Forum. “You said ‘China is a success.’ China is not a success if you believe in liberty or freedom, but in terms of market control and designate how things are going to work globally as a whole, then maybe.”
TheNYT article cites Cook’s environmental initiatives, among other aspects, as examples of him epitomizing this newfound role of business leaders acting as a catalyst for change. But his company’s conduct in China is not always synonymous with the “moral responsibility” Cook espouses.
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