New Delhi: Apple’s worst PR nightmare came true on 12 November, when six black teenagers were ousted from an Apple store in Melbourne, Australia, by security and staff.

This resulted in an unprecedented backlash when one of the teenagers posted a 20-second video of the incident on Facebook, with the caption ‘Simply Racism’. The video showed the boys being asked to leave the store, with an Apple employee saying, “We’re worried you might steal something."

This video went viral, putting Apple in a tight spot. In damage control mode, the store manager apologized and a senior manager at the store greeted the same group of students to apologise on behalf of the store and the company.

Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook sent a company-wide email reiterating the company’s core values and highlighting steps the company would take to ensure such incidents did not occur again.

Cook’s email which was shared by Buzzfeed, touches upon a number of issues.

At the outset, Cook calls the Melbourne incident “unacceptable" but “isolated", a moment which the company will use as an opportunity to draw lessons. “What people have seen and heard from watching the video on the web does not represent our values. It is not a message we would ever want to deliver to a customer or hear ourselves," Cook wrote.

One of the highlights of the email is the pledge that Apple makes to its customers and to itself—that “Apple is open. Our stores and our hearts are open to people from all walks of life, regardless of race or religion, gender or sexual orientation, age, disability, income, language or point of view. All across our company, being inclusive and embracing our differences makes our products better and our stores stronger."

Surprisingly, the staff at the Melbourne Apple store that turned out the black teenagers are themselves of diverse nationalities, including Australia, Egypt, Italy and India and, between them, speak 15 languages, including Urdu, Portuguese, Arabic and Mandarin.

Following the incident, staff at all Apple stores will undergo refresher training programmes. Training would be given on inclusion and customer engagement, concepts that may have been forgotten over time.

Cook’s email is high on rhetoric and hyperbole, extolling old virtues and customer service practices which should be second nature for a customer-focused company like Apple. The incident may be isolated but raises important questions around diversity. Apple itself has been struggling to increase and improve diversity practices. According to the company’s latest diversity report, Apple has hired 50% more black employees and 66% more Hispanics in the US. But overall, Apple remains 69% male and 55% white.

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