Apple is under unprecedented pressure as it prepares to launch iPhone 13

Apple is facing waves of employee activism against sexual harassment and other toxic issues in the workplace.

James Martin / CNET

Dear Scarlett is a senior software engineer who first learned programming by reading the code of websites she loved. Scarlett was hired to work for Apple about a year and a half ago, but she’s been doing a lot more than coding in recent months. She tried to organize an internal investigation into employee compensation, publicized worker complaints and helped draft an open letter to CEO Tim Cook criticizing the working conditions. Today, she and a growing group of people are at the center of one of Apple’s biggest calculations of how it treats its own employees and whether it lives up to the ideals of diversity, inclusion. and tolerance that Cook and his leaders espouse.

Scarlett is part of a growing movement called #AppleToo, created to change Apple’s culture. Many believe that Apple’s revered and oft-emulated approach to extreme secrecy has a downside. Apple has created devices that change the world, including the iPod and iPhone, by separating teams and teaching them never to reveal their work, even to their co-workers. But critics say the 45-year-old company, co-founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976, has also created an environment in which people seem terrified of speaking out against bad behavior, including sexual harassment, discrimination. wages and other hostile working conditions. .

“Cultures that highly reward loyalty create that perfect storm where you are expected to ‘keep it in the family’,” Scarlett said in an interview this month. She and other current and former Apple employees have turned to social networks share the frustrations on the culture of the company. On Medium, Scarlett posted some of the stories of sexual harassment, assault and racism from her colleagues that seemed to be ignored by management. “We have some really bad actors who take advantage to prey on vulnerable people. We need change. We need it now,” wrote an anonymous employee in an article published by Scarlett.

Employees aren’t the only ones to blame Apple. Lawmakers, regulators, competitors and activists around the world are attacking Cook and the company from a multitude of angles, including new laws, investigations, antitrust lawsuits and letter-writing campaigns. Either way, they’re pushing Apple to change fundamental business practices. This pressure, coming on multiple fronts and inside and out, underscores that even Apple, with its horde of loyal fans, is not immune to the backlash facing the tech industry. It is just one of many giants, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, under siege as more and more people begin to question their business practices and their power and influence over our lives.

Caroline Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies, said the scrutiny was due in part to the depth of technology’s integration into modern life and revelations that some companies have abused that power. “This is the moment we are at,” she said. “We are more aware.”


Google has seen hundreds of employees go public with their protests.

James Martin / CNET

While Facebook, Google, and Amazon have had their own share of struggles over the years, including employee protests and government investigations into their business practices, it’s unusual to see Apple under so many scrutiny. audiences at the same time.

Until recently, Apple seemed above the fray. But even a company with enormous power and an iconic mantra like “Think Different” can only escape so much.

Now the 2.4 trillion dollar company is under the microscope like never before. And this is happening during a unique pandemic and economic disaster. And just as Apple is about to start selling the iPhone 13, its biggest product release of the year.

An Apple spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. The company has previously declined to discuss individual employee issues, but said it “takes all concerns seriously” and “thoroughly investigates whenever a concern is raised.”

Surprising troubles


Apple employees have pushed back plans to return to the company’s office.

scar Gutiérrez / CNET

The roots of employee activism that Apple now faces seem to go back to the instant messaging service Slack. As The Verge, CNN, and The New York Times reported, the business-focused app that Salesforce bought last year for nearly $ 28 billion broke the walls of communication between different Apple teams. . Soon, employees drew responses from across the company as they discussed issues in group chats for people in a certain location or designed to talk about working remotely.

Former engineering manager Ashley Gjovik said her struggles with the company started when she raised concerns about workplace safety, which also led to conversations about workplace harassment . She said Apple’s back office retaliated against her, so she started turning to co-workers on Slack.

“I lost confidence in them a bit,” Gjovik said of Apple’s administrative teams. Soon, she said colleagues were also expressing their frustrations.

Around the same time, groups of Apple employees began organizing group letters to executives, asking for changes in the company’s work culture. Letters were leaked to the press, initially criticizing Apple’s hiring of Antonio Garcia-Martinez, a former Facebook product manager who wrote a book in which he called women in the San Bay area. Francisco of “gentle and weak, pampered and naive despite their assertions.” worldly, and usually full of crap. ”Apple parted ways with him in response.

Then, employees began to push back Apple’s efforts to set a minimum number of days employees must be in the office as it prepared to reopen with pandemic mitigation. Apple’s plans have since been postponed until next year.

Earlier this month, a group of employees issued an open letter to Cook and senior management at the company, asking the tech giant to improve the way it treats its 147,000 employees and ” keep its promise of inclusion, diversity and equity ”.

In the letter, the group requested increased confidentiality of personal information; transparent and fair compensation; an audit of all relationships with other companies; increased accountability within management and human resources teams; and a process for sharing group concerns. The letter also calls for a new investigation into all reports of “racism, discrimination, abuse, harassment, suppression of concerted activities and retaliation” at Apple.

They posted the letter on their website, AppleToo, an indirect reference to the #MeToo movement which has gained momentum following revelations of sexual harassment and assault by disgraced former Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Scarlett and Gjovik, meanwhile, filed separate complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, which confirmed its investigation. Scarlett currently works for Apple as a software engineer, but the company fired Gjovik earlier this month for leaking confidential product information, according to Bloomberg. She has since received approval from California and U.S. civil rights agencies to prosecute.

The outcome of these complaints could take weeks, months or “much longer”, as the NLRB states on its site.

Under pressure


Apple CEO Tim Cook has been grilled by Capitol Hill lawmakers and a judge overseeing an antitrust trial.


As Apple faces pressure from its employees, it also finds itself increasingly embroiled in legal proceedings and political debates at home and abroad. In South Korea, lawmakers passed a law attempting to impose changes to restrictions Apple and Google have placed on their app stores, including a rule that additional purchases made in an app must be handled by businesses. Epic Games, creator of the best-selling online fighting title Fortnite, also sued Apple over its App Store, arguing that it should reverse rules preventing external app stores or unapproved apps from running on iPhones or iPads. Epic largely lost the legal battle in a Sept. 10 ruling, though it is appealing the ruling.

Activists and advocates have also started to pressure the company over privacy concerns. Earlier this year, thousands of people signed open letters urging Apple to ditch new technology designed to tackle child exploitation – features they say could be turned into tools for mass surveillance. (Apple this month decided to delay the release of the technology, a move that has shocked advocates for children, without giving a new timeline.)

Apple, meanwhile, continued to offer new products, announcing an update ipad mini, Apple Watch Series 7 and iPhone 13 in a highly produced 80-minute video presentation last week. In his review of the iPhone 13, CNET’s Patrick Holland said that Apple “offered a delicious upgrade,” in particular praising the cameras and battery life.

Analysts expect the smartphone to lead the company’s lineup, selling around 82 million units during the holiday shopping season, according to AB Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi. That would put sales roughly in line with Apple’s record last year after the iPhone 12 was released.

Cook was headlining the Sept. 14 event showcasing the new products as he has done in the past decade since he was appointed CEO, succeeding Jobs. Hearing him enthusiastically discuss Apple’s upcoming products and his company’s “uniqueness”, you would never have seen so many dark clouds hover over him.

“It’s an amazing time to be at Apple,” he said.

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