Apple still doesn't get transparency

Apple has committed to audits of 90% of its suppliers - but what about the other 10%?
Apple is making some steps towards transparency, but its far from enough to rank alongside the rest of the IT industry leaders.
Apple is making some steps towards transparency, but its far from enough to rank alongside the rest of the IT industry leaders.

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It's good to see Apple finally showing a bit more responsibility for its supply chain, and announcing that not only has it joined the action group Fair Labor Association, but it has asked it to audit its main supplier factories.

The FLA, which began as an organization to convince footwear and clothing companies like Nike and Adidas to stop using sweatshop labour to make their goods, will investigate Apple's suppliers to ensure they meet its standards on things like fair pay, working conditions and so on.

It's progress for Apple, which is/was facing growing criticism of the fact that it uses suppliers that rely on cheap labour working under poor terms, in poor and even dangerous conditions, all while Apple rakes in record profits.

In case you had forgotten, all those iPads and iPhones have generated so much profit, that Apple is now sitting on cash reserves of $97.6 billion - as this infographic shows, that's enough for a one-off pay cheque of $6.6m for each Apple employee. Just the ones that work for Apple mind, not the suppliers.

What's not so good, is that Apple's statement says that by the time the independent audit is complete, it "will cover facilities where more than 90 percent of Apple products are assembled".

So what about the other 10%?

Apple being Apple, it is not taking questions on the subject. But given in the past that there have been accusations that its own audits were interfered with by management at supplier companies, to cover up abuses, why leave any margin of uncertainty? Either commit to cleaning up the supply chain completely, or carry on ignoring the protests.

Its not just on supply chain issues that Apple gets flak either. Greenpeace this week effectively excluded the company from its Cool IT Leaderboard, which measures companies on their usage of and commitment to the cause of renewable, clean energy. The reason being, that Apple doesn't release any figures on sustainability, just some environmental info on selected products.

Greenpeace's statement: "[Apple] has not demonstrated leadership or elected to pursue market opportunities to drive IT energy solutions that many of its competitors have, despite record profits and large cash reserves."

Likewise, Apple doesn't have any clear corporate social responsibility policy, or disclose any charitable giving.

Big companies aren't under any obligation to be nice, or even to ‘not do evil', but when you keep on raking in record profits, and you can't prove that its not at the expense of workers in developing countries, the environment, even your consumers themselves, then you can't be surprised when even the most die-hard fans start feeling the pricking of their consciences, and start questioning whether they really want to keep spending on Apple products.

In the post-Jobs era, Apple might be edging its way towards a bit more corporate social responsibility, but for now, it is still a technology leader that is socially backward.

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