Apple omits (PRODUCT)RED branding for red iPhone in China, perhaps to avoid AIDS controversy

Taiwanese site (left) versus Chinese site (right)

Update 2: When asked, CEO Tim Cook reportedly said “We donate to the Global Fund on every iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus we sell in every country in the world,” suggesting Apple is still donating funds from red iPhones sold in China.

Update: Some are suggesting the move may be because recent changes in the law prevent businesses selling products which use a charity branding to help drive sales. If this theory is correct, this could also mean that red iPhones sold in China will not raise money for (RED).

Apple’s announcement of a red iPhone 7/Plus yesterday wasn’t just notable for the introduction of a mid-cycle color option, but also because it represented the company’s greatest ever support for the AIDS-fighting charity (RED).

Tim Cook said yesterday it was in celebration of ten years’ partnership with the charity, and the PRODUCT(RED) branding was prominent on the homepage of its websites around the world – except in China, that is …

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As TechCrunch notes, Apple’s Chinese website omits all mention of the link to the charity. This isn’t a language thing – the Taiwanese site has the same PRODUCT(RED) branding as the rest of the world – but the site suggests this is instead a political decision by Apple. Its theory is that Apple doesn’t want to jeopardise its somewhat delicate relationship with the Chinese government by getting embroiled in what is a controversial topic in the country.

There is reason to support this theory. China has been criticized in many quarters for failing to adequately respond to a growing AIDS crisis in the country.

Transmission through sex has been rising exponentially, exposing which groups the UN report regards as the 21st century’s most vulnerable: “widespread lack of knowledge and protective life skills, huge internal labour migration, underprivileged minority communities, relative poverty, youth, and gender inequity” […]

Health officials say there are plenty of problems in China’s approach to AIDS. There are frequent reports of police crack-downs on local NGOs involved in AIDS prevention. There have also been reports of police using the presence of a condom in a sex worker’s handbag to justify detention. This has been partially blamed on policy incoordination, and contradictions and conflicts between laws and regulations.

In addition, there are concerns that provincial governments have enough autonomy to sometimes stall the implementation of central government-set guidelines and some officials say there has been a reluctance from many state-owned companies to get involved in AIDS programs.

But if Apple is seeking to maintain a low profile in the country on AIDS-related issues, it’s a relatively new stance. As Engadget’s Chinese editor-in-chief Richard Lai observed, Apple China posted a press release about its support for (RED) just a few months ago. Apple did not respond to a request for comment by TechCrunch.

The charity (RED) was created in 2006 with the aim of ending AIDS in one generation. Apple has been a long-time supporter of the charity, with a PRODUCT(RED) iPod raising widespread awareness of the charity, and many other products since. The company turns its Apple Store logos red each year on World AIDS Day.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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