Managers at Apple stores in Hong Kong are reportedly banning employees from expressing their support for the city’s pro-democracy movement.
Since early August, staff at Apple stores globally have been wearing lanyards with Memojis—or customizable emoji characters—as part of a way to “help store employees express themselves in a world wearing masks.”
According to activist Joshua Wong, Apple managers in Hong Kong have ordered staff not to decorate their Memojis with yellow or black accessories after some staff personalized theirs in a way that was interpreted as pro-protest support.
In a forwarded WhatsApp message shared by Wong, one Apple employee said a manager questioned a worker’s choice of Memoji colors, asking “Do you really like black/yellow? Why wear a yellow shirt/yellow hat?”
“After that, [the manager] forced [my] co-workers to immediately change their Memoji colors. Otherwise, they could not leave,” the message continued.
It added that managers have even threatened not to renew the contracts of staff as a way to pressure them to change their Memojis.
The employee also said that staff have instructed them not to wear face masks that are yellow or have the word “Hong Kong.”
On Friday, Wong published an open letter that he had emailed to Apple CEO Tim Cook, asking that he protect free speech in the company and create a welcoming work environment.
“I hope Apple can affirm its commitment to the principle of freedom of expression and introduce concrete measures to protect employees from future workplace censorship,” Wong wrote in the letter.
Coconuts Hong Kong reached out to Apple but has not received a response at the time of writing.
Online, Hongkongers have hit out at the company and accused it of silencing employees.
“Apple has always been spineless, it’s not the first day we learn of this,” one netizen said on Facebook.
Another user joked that if Apple wants to silence political opinions, that it should also stop manufacturing black and yellow iPhones, and only make products in blue, red and white.
This isn’t the first time that the Silicon Valley company has drawn the ire of the city’s pro-democracy protesters. Last October, it took down an app called HKmap.live, a map that uses crowdsourced information to track police and protester locations in real time.
In a statement released by Apple, the company said it had “learned” that the app had been “used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.”
The removal came a day after Chinese state media accused Apple of supporting Hong Kong’s protests by permitting HKmap.live on its app store, prompting backlash that the company was kowtowing to Beijing.