Apple report reveals labor, environmental violations

January 13, 2012

An audit released by Apple on Friday reveals widespread violations of worker rights and environmental practices by manufacturing partners for the company’s wildly popular iPhone, iPad and other gadgets around the world.

Apple found that 62 percent of the 229 facilities it inspected were not in compliance with the company’s maximum 60-hour work policy; 13 percent did not have adequate protections for juvenile workers; and 32 percent had problems with the management of hazardous waste.

One supplier was caught dumping wastewater at a nearby farm. Another had a total lack of safety measures, creating “unsafe working conditions,” the report found. Five facilities employed underage workers.

In conjunction with the list of violations, Apple on Friday also released a list of its global suppliers for the first time in an effort to provide more transparency about where the materials for its products are sourced and how the products are put together. The list of 156 companies includes such household names as Intel, Samsung and Sony as well as smaller suppliers in China, Malaysia and Singapore.

The company in the past had refused to divulge its full supplier list even as it became standard practice for multinational corporations to do so after the public outcry in the 1990s over labor problems at Nike factories in developing countries.

Apple’s change of heart follows a highly publicized string of factory worker suicides in 2010 and deadly explosions in two Chinese factories in 2011.

In its annual report, the Cupertino, Calif., company maintained that it is “committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base” and promoted its education and outreach programs that it hopes will reach the workers it indirectly employs through its contractors and subcontractors.

Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said that disclosing the supplier list is indicative of a shift in thinking at the company that focuses on maintaining Apple’s positive image with consumers who have been demanding that Apple take more responsibility for problems at companies in its supply chain.

“Apple’s taking a page from their own culture, their maxims, and they’re thinking a little different,” Wu said.

The report, however, is not comprehensive. Apple said it represents about 97 percent of its supply chain. Wu said that the list did not include subcontractors or companies that provide materials or components to Apple suppliers.

Mike Daisey, a critic who has drawn attention to labor problems at Apple factories, said the report was “heartening” but does not go nearly far enough.

“They list the violations and there’s a list of suppliers,” he said, “but the report doesn’t match the supplier to the violation.” Refusing to name specific companies, he said, is the same as tacitly endorsing the practices. “You still can’t use this to hold anyone accountable.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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