In a surprise turn of events, Apple has revealed its list of 156 suppliers along with its annual 2012 Supplier Responsibility report, an annual report compiled from internal audits of all of Apple’s suppliers. Alongside Foxconn, which manufacturers products such as the iPhone, iPad and Mac-range of computers under contract, the list also included well-known companies such as Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba (the full list can be viewed here). The suppliers listed account for around 97 percent of Apple’s external procurement measurements.
For one of the most secretive technology companies in the world, which is known for employing an internal “secret service” (nicknamed the Apple Gestapo) to investigate leaks, the publishing of this list has come as quite a surprise to most people and may be the first step into Apple opening up its doors to the world.
The Supplier Responsibility report, however, makes for less pleasant reading. Apple conducted 229 audits in 2011, an increase of 80% on the following year, on all its suppliers and found some unpalatable facts, which are listed in the report. Only 38 percent of Apple’s suppliers keep to the agreed maximum working week of 60 hours (i.e. six 10-hour shifts) with one guaranteed day off per week and a third were found to be negligent when it came to handling hazardous substances. In five factories, minors were found to be employed (however this was due to work papers not being checked correctly, according to Apple) and further violations were also discovered, such as poor pay and the breach of environmental regulations.
Aside criticism concerning unethical working conditions and long shifts, some Apple suppliers are also failing to follow basic safety procedures, which can have lethal results. In May 2011, an explosion at a Foxconn-operated factory in Chengdu killed 3 employees and injured a further 15. The explosion, which was most probably caused by the ignition of airborne aluminium dust, occurred on the iPad 2 production line and affected Apple’s global supply chain for a short while afterwards, causing stock to run out in several retailers. Another explosion also rocked a similar factory in Shanghai in December belonging to the Ri-Teng Computer Accessory company, which manufactures parts for Apple’s products, injuring 61 people.
By publishing the report, Apple hopes to confront the criticism made against them, which stepped up a notch after around 20 workers committed suicide in Foxconn’s Shenzen plant in 2010, mainly due to dire working conditions and poor pay (the average Foxconn worker earns around $150 a month, a small amount even by Chinese standards). The company was also the first electronics manufacturer that has joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which strives to achieve better working conditions in factories worldwide. Apple’s new boss, Tim Cook, told the Wall Street Journal that the company wants to be more “transparent” about the standards in its supply chain and that the company was “raising the bar” for the technology industry – a far cry from Jobs, who was a well-known advocator for secrecy and opacity in the entire company.
Despite all the criticism levelled against them, Apple is showing their caring side by publishing their internal audit reports and implementing such stringent checks on suppliers. The company already spends millions of dollars training and educating suppliers on local labour laws, workers rights and occupational health and safety and has an absolutely zero tolerance on underage labour, a practice which Apple calls the strictest and toughest in the technology industry. Although there are still a few creases to iron out, it seems like Apple is helping towards creating a fairer and safer working environment for the employees of its suppliers.
Apple’s full Supplier Responsibility report for 2012 can be viewed on their corporate website here.