As The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, Apple Inc. is "increasingly finding itself pinched between the promise and perils of doing business in China."
Last Friday and for the first time ever Apple released a comprehensive list of its major suppliers and a detailed report on factory inspections throughout the company's sprawling supply chain.
In addition, Apple recently became the first technology company accepted by the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an organization that monitors workplace environments worldwide.
These moves come on the heels of stepped-up pressure from activists worldwide. Earlier this month, workers from a Foxconn Technology factory in China waged a large protest that involved threats from some to commit suicide. The protest, based largely on a wage dispute, is the latest in a long series of labor troubles with Foxconn, a supplier to Apple and several other leading electronics manufacturers. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Foxconn had resolved the dispute, but it's clear that tech companies (and others) run a great risk if they are perceived as being exploitive employers.
Apple's Supplier Responsibility 2012 Progress Report outlines the company's commitment to "driving the highest standards for social responsibility throughout (its) supply base." Still, much more needs to be done, and I'm pleased to read that Apple is taking additional steps to monitor and improve factory conditions. Joining the FLA is another step in the right direction, and the company says it is expanding its worker education program and increasing audits in Malaysia and Singapore, as well.
Apple's supplier list includes the 156 companies that account for more than 97 percent of what the tech giant pays to suppliers to manufacture its products.
"We welcome Apple's commitment to greater transparency and independent oversight, and we hope its participation will set a new standard for the electronics industry," Auret van Heerden, FLA's President and CEO, said in a statement.
Workers at other factories that supply leading global brands have been making headlines, too. For example, last week a Nike factory agreed to pay $1m in unpaid overtime to Indonesian workers a move that The Guardian says could force other suppliers of multinational companies to follow suit. Also, the US government is investigating forced child labor alleged in an organic and fair-trade cotton program that supplies the lingerie retailer Victoria's Secret.