With an Apple store coming to Santa Clarita this year, first time buyers will often associate the Apple brand with sleek walls, stylish design and fast computers.
But over the last year, Apple has been working to revamp their corporate image in the wake of the Foxxcon suicides, in which 14 people took their lives over complaints of the factory, which supplies Apple and other companies with sophisticated consumer electronics.
In response to the situation and other complaints by factory workers and human rights organizations, Apple launched multiple audits into its supplier chain. The results of this audit have just now been released.
But don’t let the glossy photos of smiling, attentive and hard working Chinese natives fool you. Apple’s 2011 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, gives consumers a less than picturesque look into third party companies such as Foxconn, and their methods for keeping up with the insatiable demand by the developed world for consumer electronics.
But for every report of mismanagement, abuse and psuedo-corruption by Foxxcon and other suppliers, there is at least one description of “corrective action” by Apple.
Take for example Apple’s finding on child labor, in which they disclosed audits of their production facilities.
“Our audits of 127 facilities revealed ten Chinese factories that had hired workers under the age of 16 years, the minimum age for employment in China,” Apple stated in the report.
The child labor section of the report breaks down the number of child labor cases, a total of 51. It also provided excuses for the lack of oversight, namely, the lack of reliable age verification systems being used by Apple’s suppliers.
According to UNICEF, an international children’s rights organization, “Children living in the poorest households and in rural areas are most likely to be engaged in child labor.”
China is a largely rural country, with more than half its citizens living in rural areas. However, China has seen a massive increase in urban development over the past ten years.
Between 1981 and 2005 it is estimated that the poverty rate in China fell from 85% to 15%, which accounts for roughly 600 million people. This is mainly due to governmental reforms of the economy, as well as the increasing demands of a 21st century society.
In the report, Apple discusses their process of reviewing suppliers saying:
Each year, we audit more factories across our supply base. Apple audits all final assembly manufacturers every year. We select other suppliers based on risk factors — such as conditions in the country where a facility is located and the facility’s past audit performance — enabling us to focus our efforts where we can have the greatest impact. As of December 2010, Apple has audited 288 facilities located in China, the Czech Republic, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.
An Apple supplier responsibility auditor leads every audit, supported by local third-party auditors trained to use our detailed audit protocol and to assess the requirements specified in our Code.
Apple audits cross-reference data from multiple sources. We conduct interviews with employees, contract workers, and senior management in relevant functional areas. We also conduct a physical inspection of manufacturing facilities and factory-managed dormitories and dining areas, as well as a review of records and relevant policies and procedures.
In the report, Apple lists specific core violations ranging from involuntary labor, audit falsification, bribery and coaching of employees. Each of these listed violations has Apple’s response to the situation listed alongside these issues.
However, listed in the appendix of the report, are more descriptions of safety and hazardous material violations, and loosely illuminated working conditions inside supplier factories – many of which came to light after a string of suicides at Foxconn’s factories.
Between January and November of 2010, Apple’s production chain was mired in controversy when 14 Foxconn workers committed suicide by leaping to their deaths from the roof of the Shenzhen factory.
In response, Apple’s COO Tim Cook and other Apple and Foxconn executives met to discuss solutions. Foxconn and Apple worked together to open a help center, install nets around some buildings, and by raising pay wages. They even hired mental health counselors.
With this report, some in the tech and blogging world will no doubt see this as a positive move by Apple — which is normally very strict about corporate security and secrecy — as the company tries to repair damage to its image of individuality and responsibility.