Apple Inc.'s (Nasdaq: AAPL) position as an iconic brand, as well as a Wall Street darling, doesn't mean its image stays squeaky clean.
The company suffered a PR headache this week when a worker riot broke out at one of the Chinese factories run by Foxconn, the company that assembles the majority of iPhones and iPads.
The riot, which involved about 2,000 workers, occurred late Sunday at a Foxconn factory in Taiyuan. Analysts attributed the riot at least in part to the same stressful working conditions that led to several suicides in 2010.
Complaints about long hours, low pay, and draconian management at Foxconn's many factories have persisted for years, and reflected negatively on the usually-lauded Apple.
Although Foxconn assembles devices for most of the world's top consumer electronics companies -- including Sony Corp. (NYSE ADR: SNY), Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE: HPQ), Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) -- whenever a worker crisis erupts, the focus is all on Apple.
The net result is that Apple - which just launched its biggest product of the year, the iPhone 5, this past weekend - gets tainted by association every time there's trouble at Foxconn.
Over the past several years, that's happened with increasing frequency.
"These workers must be treated with respect," New York-based watchdog group China Labor Watch said in a statement. "And both Apple and Foxconn, with billions of dollars in profits every year, have both a legal and ethical obligation to uphold the rights of these workers."
Clearly Apple would rather avoid these nasty surprises, but a complex combination of factors will keep it lashed to Foxconn for years to come.