Apple’s ‘fig leaf’?

2012-03-09 17:04



Apple’s ‘fig leaf’?

Reader question:

Please explain this headline, with “fig leaf” in particular: Labor monitor selected by Apple called just a ‘fig leaf’.

My comments:

The story behind this headline is this. Apple, the American company known for its iPods, iPhones and iPads, have for some time been accused of allowing its contractors to operate sweat shops, in which assembly line workers toil long hours in harsh conditions for little pay. To counter the accusation, Apple decided to look into the matter in order to salvage its otherwise impeccable reputation – after all, the company is known for churning out impeccable products.

Well, Apple does not look into the matter directly – nor does it intend to, either, I suppose. Instead, it hired a labor condition monitoring group to look into the matter for it.

Which, in turn, leads to further accusations that the labor monitor is just a “fig leaf”. In other words, the Apple move is a PR gimmick. It’s more a cover up than disclosure. This, from the New York Times (Critics Question Record of Monitor Selected by Apple, February 13, 2012):

Apple’s announcement on Monday that an outside monitoring group, the Fair Labor Association, has begun inspecting its suppliers’ factories in China rekindled a debate over how effective the group has been in eliminating labor abuses.

The association was founded in 1999, by universities and nonprofit groups, along with Nike, Liz Claiborne and several other American apparel companies that said they were eager to eliminate workplace abuses; at that time, anti-sweatshop groups were pummeling American apparel companies for abuses in overseas factories they used.

Since its founding, the association has inspected more than 1,300 factories in Asia and Latin America, uncovering myriad violations. But despite these successes, many labor advocates say its efforts have barely made a dent in improving working conditions.

“The Fair Labor Association is largely a fig leaf,” said Jeff Ballinger, director of Press for Change, a labor rights group. “There’s all this rhetoric from corporate social responsibility people and the big companies that they want to improve labor standards, but all the pressure seems to be going the other direction — they’re trying to force prices down.”

See, the upshot is, critics think Apple is insincere. It wants to paper over the problem rather than tackle the problem head on.

Paper over the problem? Yes, you put a piece of paper over it to hide the problem from view.

It’s the same as trying to put a fig leaf over it, which brings us to the main question of today: What is a fig leaf?

A fig leaf is a leaf from the fig tree. Aside from the real flowerless tree, fig leave are most often seen in medieval-time European oil paintings. I’m sure you’ve seen them. You cannot miss them.

Painting nudes were once not allowed and so painters put a fig leaf over the genitals of a man to hide his modesty.

Or his shame, as shame is another common euphemism for the troubled area in question. Quite appropriate it is too because the “fig leaf” came straight from the Bible and was first used by Adam and Eve discovered “shame” for the first time, having eaten the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. This, from the Book of Genesis:

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

There we go.

Perhaps, there’s a link between the forbidden fruit and Apple, an otherwise unblemished fruit, arm, product – if the company outlaws sweat shops. Certainly it can afford to do so, as it sits over a larger pile of cash reserves than does the US Government (Apple Has More Cash Reserves than the U.S. Government,, and July 29, 2011):

New figures from the U.S. Treasury Department show that the total cash reserves for the U.S. government amount to $73.768 billion, slightly less than Apple’s total cash reserves of $75.876 billion.

When Steve Jobs first chose Apple as the name of its company, apple was an unblemished fruit. Now, because of the sweat shops, Apple has given the fruit a bad name. Now, you can take the bitten-Apple logo as a symbol of the forbidden fruit, as it reminds consumers of sweat shops which are, mincing no words, evil.

An apple a day keeps doctors away. It’s still good advice for you to bite as many of those as you like.

But not this Apple – it’s not a good idea to advise anyone to keep buying new Apple products.

Not if it keeps reminding you of sweat shops.

Not if you still have a wholesome sense of shame.

And, quite frankly, no fig leaves necessary.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Stuff happens?

Dead man walking?

Went to the grave with him?

His right hand man?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)

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