Huawei beats Apple in China-focused corporate reputation survey

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An annual study released by the Reputation Institute on Thursday claims Apple's stature in China in slumping, with the iPhone maker falling behind a number of U.S.-based multinational tech companies and local telecommunications giant Huawei.

According to the research firm's China RepTrak 2018 survey, as reported by the South China Morning Post, Apple sits in the No. 12 spot with a score of 69.7 points, down 8.7 points since 2012. By comparison, top performer Intel received a score of 73.6.

Following close behind the U.S. chipmaker was Huawei with a score of 72, while Rolex, Google and Haier rounded out the top five. Nokia and Microsoft also placed better than Apple on this year's RepTrak, though Microsoft was assigned an identical 69.7 point score.

The survey polled more than 29,500 Chinese respondents on some 280 companies, both domestic and international. A variety of corporate metrics went into each firm's final tally, including trust, admiration, esteem, brand communication and more.

Contrasting Apple's performance with that of Huawei, the Cupertino tech giant was, somewhat surprisingly, found lacking in terms of transparency and open communication. Corporate transparency is a point of pride for Apple, which routinely releases reports regarding environmental impact, government surveillance, hiring practices, supplier responsibility and other topics of interest.

Perhaps more interesting is Apple's public perception. Some 70 percent of respondents said Huawei "stands out from the crowd," while only 61 percent of those polled said the same for Apple. Further, Chinese consumers find Huawei twice as "genuine" as Apple, according to the survey.

The Reputation Institute related Apple's sagging repute to that of partner supplier Foxconn, which received an "average" score of 67.6 for 2018. While not as apparent to the general Western consumer, Apple and Foxconn's relationship is largely common knowledge in China, where Foxconn operates a majority of its factories.

The report notes Apple's reputation dropped 8.7 points since a series of damning articles shined a light on subpar working conditions at Foxconn plants. In early 2012, a New York Times report cited former Apple executives as saying the company ignored labor abuses in supplier factories for years. Follow-up investigations from CNN, ABC and other outlets spurred action from Apple, including stricter partner policies, independent audits and self-funded workers' rights programs.

China has become an increasingly important region for Apple as the company seeks continued worldwide growth amid slowing global trends. Analysis of iPhone sales — Apple's main revenue driver — in the country are conflicting, with some citing recent growth and others estimating a decline in shipments.

Apple remains committed to the market, as evidenced by CEO Tim Cook's participation as co-chair of this year's China Development Forum in March. The company has also acquiesced to stringent cybersecurity laws that call for all Chinese consumer data to be stored on local servers, a move critics say opens the door to government surveillance.

Reputation Institute's China results follow the firm's Global RepTrak findings, which saw Apple's worldwide reputation continue to decline in 2018, landing the company in 58th place, down 38 spots from last year.