January 13, 2012 11:21 pm

Apple identifies suppliers for first time

Apple has publicly identified nearly all its suppliers and invited an outside workplace conditions group to inspect them, increasing its openness after continued criticism of safety, environmental and other issues at some of its Asian contractors.

Apple said on Friday it would give auditors from the non-profit Fair Labor Association access to facilities in its supply chain and allow them to publish their findings. It also listed the names of suppliers that receive 97 per cent of Apple’s spending, ending years of refusal to confirm that it relied on specific manufacturers after they were accused of mistreating employees or hurting the environment.

The shift is the latest change by chief executive Tim Cook to longstanding practices dictated by founder Steve Jobs, who died last year. Mr Cook, a former operations chief at Apple, has also increased Apple’s charity efforts.

“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,” said Fair Labor president Auret van Heerden. The association’s directors include business representatives, academics, workers and consumer rights advocates.

The moves were disclosed as Apple published its annual report on “supplier responsibility”, which showed that the company had increased the number of its own inspections by 80 per cent from the previous year and that it had brought in environmental specialists.

The report said that Apple suppliers continue to have a wide range of shortcomings, including pushing employees beyond the company’s limit of 60-hour work weeks. Only 38 per cent of the 229 suppliers audited had working hours in compliance with Apple standards, an improvement from 32 per cent the previous year. At 93 facilities, more than half the employees had worked more than 60 hours in at least one week of 12 sampled. Proper overtime wasn’t paid at 108 places.

In a rarer but more extreme problem, some suppliers relied on recruiters who charged employees so much for finding them work that the employees were in debt and effectively participating in “involuntary labour”.

Apple insists that employees should be charged no more than one month’s wages for placement and it forced its suppliers to reimburse employees $3.3m last year.

Underage labour, which has also brought Apple unwanted attention, was reduced but still had occurred at five facilities, in no case intentionally, the company said. The previous report found instances at 10 facilities.

In a few cases, Apple broke off relations with unnamed suppliers because of their failure to correct practices exposed by the audits.

One supplier was eliminated for repeated involuntary labour issues and another for falsifying worker time sheets. Apple temporarily stopped doing business with some other companies, including one that was dumping wastewater on a nearby farm.

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