Apple comes clean


On February 15, Apple published its 2011 progress report on supplier responsibility. This is the first time that the IT giant has publicly admitted that a Chinese facility where 137 workers were poisoned in 2009 is one of its suppliers, and the first time it has released information relating to its suppliers’ hiring practices and violation of environmental commitments.

The news follows last month’s publication of “The other side of Apple”, a study compiled by three green NGOs in China, and reported by chinadialogue, which criticised the firm’s “secret culture” of “pollution and poisoning”, referring to several recent incidents. These included: the consecutive suicides of 12 employees at a Foxconn factory, a case of n-hexane poisoning at United Win Technology and numerous instances of exceeding emissions standards at the subsidiaries of CSG Holding Company.

As well as admitting that United Win Technology is one of the firm’s suppliers, the new report also reveals that, in the past year, Apple has found 91children working at 10 of its supplier facilities (the previous year it found 11 children). The number of factories meeting requirements on working hours fell to 32% last year, down from 46% in 2009.

Apple’s “culture of secrecy” is not only a marketing strategy, but has also infiltrated the company’s operational management structure. Using its right to “trade secrets” as justification, Apple has previously refused to publish the names of its suppliers, or to provide concrete information about them. Ma Jun, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, has criticised Apple’s actions, saying: “Apple should disclose this information since its pollution causes damages to others.”

Perhaps Apple is concerned that promises of greater transparency will lead to photos of the iPhone 5 being leaked even earlier – but we have no way of knowing: the only thing we know is that the reason for keeping the information secret is itself a secret.

In 1997, Apple’s advertising slogan – “Think Different” – won praise from the company’s fans and pushed its sales sky high. When it comes to environmental protection and the health of workers, however, there is probably not much space for Apple to be different.