Apple’s social responsibility?

Numerous cases of suicide at Foxconn have raised public awareness of the social responsibility Apple should bear as a huge multi-national corporation and a highly popular brand. In response to criticisms made by NGOs and the mass media, Apple published the Global Suppliers Responsibility 2011 Progress Report. In this post, we would like to summarize Apple’s report and take a look at how Apple presents its social responsibility.

Apple claimed “social responsibility is fundamental to their way of doing business”. Regarding suppliers, it said all of them are required to “provide safe working conditions”, “treat workers with dignity and respect” and “use environmentally and responsible manufacturing processes”. The Apple Supplier Code of Conduct involves five areas: Labor and human right, health and safety, the environment, ethics and management commitment. Apple said it would monitor the social responsibility performance of its supplier and terminate business with those who fails to meet Apple’s expectation consistently.

 Apple’s social responsibility programs in 2010:

  • Extended the compliance monitoring program: increased the no. of facilities audited
  • Expanded its training initiative: have trained more than 300,000 workers on their right and protections   under local law and Apple’s code
  • Dedicated additional resources to protect workers from other countries: searched for right violations and reimbursed overcharged recruitment free
  • Prevented the hiring of underage workers: provided age-verification tools,  educated facilities to manage third-party recruiters, required suppliers to return underage workers to school and finance their education
  • Mapped the use of potential conflict minerals

Apple said it executed compliance monitoring program which included factory auditscorrective action plans as well as verification measures to ensure suppliers’ compliance to its code of conduct. Audits were done by Apple’s auditor and supported by third-party auditor. During audits, auditors cross-referenced date, reviewed records and inspected factories’ plants, dormitories and dining areas as well as conducting interviews with workers. Then, auditors would evaluate facilities’ level of compliance and identify areas of improvement in the underlying management system. Facilities are required to implement corrective action plan if violations were found.  Corrective actions plans addressed not specific violation problems, but also the management system led to those problems. There are also verification audits to ensure the corrective action plans were executed.

Here is an extract of Apple’s 2011 audit results:

  • Labor and human right: 72 % practices in compliance
  • Health and safety: practices 72% in compliance
  • Environmental Impact: practices 80% in compliance
  • Ethics: practices 95% in compliance
  • Management commitment: practices 64% in compliance

2011 core violations:

  • Involuntary labor: excessive recruitment fees paid by foreign contract workers )
  • Underage workers
  • Worker endangerment: exposure to n-hexane; performing activities at height without guardrails or safety harnesses
  • Falsified records: payroll records and interview answers
  • Bribery: offered cash to Apple’s third-party auditors
  • Coaching workers on how to answer auditor’s questions: false payment information

Apple presents itself as a responsible corporation. It seems that Apple not only addresses individual violation problems, but also aims at improving management systems which are fundamental to these problems. When Violations are found, it would suggest corrective action plans to the management of suppliers. Business would be terminated only when continuous violations are found. This can ensure suppliers to comply with its code of conduct and motivate them to make improvement if they fail to.

However, more information is needed for further evaluation. Although the code of conduct seems comprehensive, concrete standards or measurements used in the auditing process should be revealed. Also, the audit result should be shown with more details, such as the audit result of individual suppliers and how many businesses are terminated because of the social responsibility violations. Only with the above details can the Apple’s report be more convincing. Finally, Apple should be able to explain how issues like Foxconn suicides and the use of H-Hexane can happen with all suppliers’ strict compliance with its code of conduct.

By Tammy


Apple Supplier Responsibility Progress Report 2011


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