The once secretive Apple has buckled under public opinion to divulge its production practices in its first ever Supplier Responsibility Progress Report.
The company’s popularity streak in the last decade has allowed it control what information it shares with the public, but a string of problems related to the production of its consumer goods in China has forced the company to reconsider its stance on keeping its supply chain a secret.
The report is designed to allay any public fears that companies such as Apple are in any way responsible for the unrest taking place at the factories owned by its Chinese supplier Foxconn, which culminated in several factory workers committing suicide last year.
Foxconn managed to put a stop to the suicides through talks with factory workers and installing suicide prevention nets at selected facilities, though the beleaguered supplier was thrust into the news again in the beginning of January when over 300 employees at the Wuhan Foxconn facility threatened to jump off a building in a mass suicide after a labour dispute deteriorated.
Whether intentional or not, the timing of the Supplier Responsibility Progress Report comes at a time when public interest in Apple’s supply chain is at a peak again after the Foxconn debacle last year, which has also dragged in companies such as Microsoft and Sony that outsource certain consumer products to Foxconn.
The report reiterates Apple’s committment to “the highest standards for social responsibility” throughout its supply base, one that requires all of its suppliers to provide safe working conditions for its workers and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes.
“Our suppliers must live up to Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct as a condition of doing business with us,” the report stated.
The 2012 report is based on the 229 audits Apple carried out in 2011 throughout its supply chain, with more than 100 being first-time audits.
The report highlights that Apple has been running internally designed training programs about local laws that have already reached more than one million supply chain employees, as well as educating them about their rights as workers, occupational health and safety, and Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct.
According to the report, the audits have been run with compliance with environmental standards in mind, with a specialised auditing program launched in 2011 to investigate environmental concerns about certain Chinese suppliers.
“We uncovered some violations and worked with our suppliers to correct the issues,” the report admitted.
“We will expand our environmental auditing program in the coming year.”
Apple’s report emphasised the company’s “zero-tolerance policy” for underage labour, one which the company believes is “the toughest in the electronics industry.”
As proof of this hardline approach, Apple broadened its age verification program in 2011 and reported significant improvements in hiring practices by its suppliers.
“Cases of underage labour were down significantly, and our audits found no underage workers at our final assembly suppliers,” the report said.
Education forms a large part of Apple’s push in improving the conduct of its suppliers, and the report states that “education opportunities” are being offered free of charge at suppliers’ facilities.
Approximately 60,000 workers have already taken part in classes to study business and entrepreneurship, improve their computer skills, or learn English, with further expansion in the curriculum expected.
“We’ve also partnered with some local universities to offer courses that employees can apply toward an associate degree,” the report added.
Apple insists that if its manufacturing partners do not live up to the standards outlined in its supplier Code of Conduct after a rigorous audit by independent experts, the company will stop working with them.
While the company emphasises that the audit program “reaches all levels” of its supply chain, including final assembly and component suppliers, it admits that is “not enough” to merely find and correct problems.
“We continue to expand our program to reach deeper into our supply base, and this year we also added more detailed and specialized audits to address safety and environmental concerns,” the report stated.
In addition to the recently released Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, Apple is planning on publishing a list of its leading suppliers on its Supplier Responsibility website for easy access by the public and stakeholders.
“These 156 companies account for more than 97 per cent of what we pay to suppliers to manufacture our products,” the report explained.
I addition to producing its popular iPhone and current generation iPad devices in China, recent rumours are pointing towards Apple’s manufacturing partners beginning production of the iPad 3.