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OM in the News: Apple Releases Names of Suppliers and Their Compliance

January 16, 2012

Apple Inc. just released an audit of its major suppliers, saying it found a number of violations including breaches in pay, benefits, and environmental conditions, especially in China. It conducted 229 audits last year, an increase of 80% over 2010. The company, notorious for keeping its supply chain under wraps, also for the 1st time named its major suppliers. Under pressure from activists in the US and abroad, Apple’s 27 page Social Responsibility Report  is the most comprehensive in the firm’s history. It also reflects new CEO Tim Cook’s  departure from the culture of secrecy maintained under Steve Jobs.

Asking your students to read this report and evaluate the firm’s strength and weaknesses may make for a good discussion when you cover Chapters 7 and 11.

The Wall Street Journal (Jan.14, 2012) reports that nearly a third of Apple’s suppliers do not abide by the company’s standards. Five  facilities employed underage workers;  112 were not properly dealing with hazardous chemicals (137 workers were seriously injured cleaning iPad screens with n-hexane); 108 firms did not pay properly for overtime; and 93 had workers exceeding the 60 hour per week corporate cap. Apple did add that all suppliers have stopped discriminatory screenings for medical conditions or pregnancy. Several references are made to one of Apple’s biggest manufacturing partners, Foxconn, and the spate of employee suicides (jumping off the roof) at its Shenzen, China facility.

While Apple has occasionally divulged the names of selected suppliers, the rest have been a secret, long-studied and sought out by industry analysts. The new list of 156 companies represents 97% of the first tier of Apple’s supply chain. It includes such well-known firms as Sony and Intel, along with less-known names like Tianjin Lishen Battery, Zenya Aluminum, and Unisteel Technologies.

Discussion questions:

1. Why did Apple release this report and name its suppliers?

2. What more can Apple do to increase its social responsibility?

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