Apple opens up

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Apple terminated business with one of its suppliers last year for repeated human right violations at its plant – and it is working with another repeat offender to correct its human rights practices.

It also took action in cases of under-age labour at five supplier sites as well as ensuring that $3.3m dollars was returned to contract workers who had been charged excessive recruitment fees.

The actions are detailed in Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Report 2012. And this year for the first time, Apple has not only release more detail of the action it is taking, it has also published a list of 156 suppliers that account for 97 per cent of its procurement spending.

Apple regularly scores highly in surveys of the world’s top supply chains – but more recently it has also come in for criticism of some of the practices of its suppliers.

In September, for example, Apple came under fire from a group of Chinese environmental organisations for turning a blind eye to environmental pollution in its supply chain.

In its Supplier Responsibility Report, the company pointed out that it had engaged globally recognised environmental engineering experts to conduct audits at 14 facilities.

It said: “Apple recognises that there is still a lot of work to be done in the area of environmental impact.”

It said it was expanding the number of specialised environmental audits throughout the supply chain as well as working with government and non-governmental organisations to drive improvements in environmental practices throughout its supply chain. It is also encouraging suppliers to be transparent and disclose their environmental performance to the public.

Overall, last year Apple’s supplier responsibility team conducted a total of 229 audits—an 80 per cent increase over 2010. More than 100 of these were at factories that had been not audited before.

Apple has also decided to join the Fair Labor Association which monitors supply chains to eliminate child labour and other human rights violations. Readers might remember that last month Nestlé announced that it was applying to join the FLA.

Apparently Apple is the first technology company to be accepted by the FLA. It will also open its supply chain to the FLA’s independent auditing team.

These are significant changes for Apple, which has in the past been accused of secretiveness about its supply chain.

While there might be some commercial advantage to revealing as little as possible about the workings of the supply chain, companies are under increasing pressure not only to do the right thing – but to be seen to be doing it. Not surprisingly big consumer brands feel that pressure most acutely. Apple won’t be the last organisation to go down this route.


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