On Friday, Apple released its Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, detailing Apple’s commitment to improving protection of workers and factory conditions. The report draws on the results of the 2011 audit.
Improving worker protection and factory conditions
Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct lays out the responsible practices expected of suppliers, in labor and human rights, worker health and safety, environmental impact, ethics and management systems. Apple’s worker empowerment program provides workers with training on the Code of Conduct, their rights, as well as occupational health and safety standards.
Apple has expanded its Supplier Employee Education and Development (SEED) program to all final assembly facilities. The program provides workers with the opportunity to take free courses, including finance, computer skills and English.
Apple conducts audits with its suppliers and is candid in saying that if manufacturers do not live up to the standards expected of them, Apple will stop working with them.
Apple’s 2011 audit
In 2011, Apple conducted a total of 229 audits with companies throughout its supply chain. Encouragingly, the results indicate that the vast majority of facilities improve their scores year on year. The 2011 audit included over 100 first-time audits, in line with Apple’s commitment expand its program to reach deeper into its supply chain. 2011’s audit built upon the 2010’s, with Apple adding more detailed and specialized audits, focusing on safety and the environment.
Apple increased audits in Malaysia and Singapore – known to be destinations for foreign contract workers – as part of Apple’s efforts to protect the rights of workers who move from their home countries to work in suppliers’ factories. As a result, were reimbursed $3.3 million in excess foreign contact worker fees.
The report described the issues encountered in the audit along with Apple’s responses, including:
- 18 facilities screened job candidates or current workers for hepatitis B, and 24 facilities conducted pregnancy tests. Apple classified these practices as discrimination, even if permissible under local laws. The report assures that suppliers have stopped these discriminatory screenings, and Apple has also required them to establish clear policies and procedures to prevent recurrence.
- In its 2011 audit, Apple found no instances of intentional hiring of underage labor. There were 6 active and 13 historical cases of underage labor at 5 facilities. In each case, the facility had insufficient controls to verify age or detect false documentation. In response to this, Apple requires those suppliers to support the young workers’ return to school and to improve their management systems such as labor recruitment practices and age verification procedures to prevent recurrences.
- In two facilities, repeat instances of involuntary labor were found. Apple has terminated business with one supplier and is correcting the practices of the other supplier.
- Four facilities were not monitoring air emissions appropriately and Apple required facilities to immediately hire professional laboratories and conduct air emission tests. Facilities that weren’t appropriately maintained were required to immediately perform maintenance and develop standard maintenance procedures.
Apple also requires that its suppliers only use materials that have been procured through a conflict-free process. The company is working with the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) in an industry-wide effort to train and certify smelters of these metals as being conflict-free through a rigorous independent third-party audit process. The process is aligned with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines. For more information on conflict minerals, join the webinar on February 1st, Getting Ready for the New Conflict Minerals Requirements.
For the first time, Apple has also named its largest suppliers and has provided a list of companies that supply its materials and manufacture and assemble the company’s products.
This move towards greater transparency could play an important role in pushing other electronics brands to disclose details of their suppliers. It is encouraging to see the steps Apple is taking in expanding the auditing practices further across its supply chain. It is evident from the report, and from the list of suppliers provided, that Apple believes greater transparency is key to gaining trust and understanding from consumers.
See what other electronics companies are doing: