Smoking your own hubris is neither cool nor healthy
Oscar Widle's novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey, tells of a beautiful and idealistic young man who sells his soul to ensure that his portrait will age rather than himself. He subsequently leads a life of debauchery, but the portrait serves as a disturbing reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with the sins displayed as a disfigurement of his form.
This seems to be an allegory for Apple Inc and Steve Jobs, who has just stepped down as CEO of the company he co-founded 35 years ago with the admirable vision of democratizing IT through “low cost computers for everyone”.
In this modern parallel to Wilde's story there is a twist in that the company is Dorian and Jobs is the picture. Despite his healthy lifestyle Jobs is not a well man and I hasten to wish him all the best in his battle with cancer.
Nonetheless, it struck me as ironic back in January when – a few of days after Apple announced another monster set of quarterly results and Jobs started his latest medical leave of absence – the lid came off the story about serious health & safety, environmental and labor rights violations in the company's Chinese supply chain.
Seven months later and a week after the announcement that Jobs has stepped down, the same coalition of environmental NGOs in China has released a second report, alleging large-scale hazardous waste discharge by the Apple supply chain. One of the local communities effected has seen an alarming rise in cancer cases.
No doubt mindful of the opprobrium heaped on it last time round, Apple has reacted swiftly to the new report. It invited the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs – which spearheads the Green Choice Alliance – to have a “private conference call” while saying it takes such concerns seriously, but found discrepancies in the document.
This response is straight out of the public relations crisis management play-book, which attempts to contain the problem by totting out the usual blandishments without taking responsibility. It does, however, rate as an improvement by Apple which has thus far stonewalled multiple efforts by Green Choice to enter a dialogue with the company, as it has with 28 other major Chinese and international electronics manufacturers.
Lack of transparency
The technology giant says that it is committed to the highest standard of social responsibility, but clearly does not understand that transparency is an essential element in achieving this.
Apple's secretiveness, which comes in for strong criticism in both Green Choice Alliance reports, can be laid squarely at the door of Steve Jobs. During his first stint at Apple Jobs was responsible for copying the idea of a graphical user interface for computers from Xerox and thereafter saw Microsoft take the concept, which Apple pioneered commercially, and use Windows in its various guises as a platform to dominate the IT market and generate monopoly profits for well over a decade.