Apple releases 2012 ‘responsibility report,’ includes full list of suppliers for first time

Apple released its annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report on Friday, detailing the computer giant’s efforts to improve conditions for workers throughout its supply chain and to ensure its environmental standards are being met.

Notably, the company listed all 156 of its suppliers and manufacturing partners, something it’s never done before. It’s not clear why it chose to do this, though the company obviously feels greater transparency is the key to gaining trust and understanding from consumers when it comes to dealing with criticism regarding issues in the workplace at factories run by Apple suppliers, such as Taiwan-based Foxconn.

A string of suicides by Foxconn employees in China over recent years has understandably cast Apple in a negative light in the eyes of some, though the Cupertino company is keen to show that it’s working with its overseas partners to address the problems. However, problems continue, as only this week a number of Foxconn employees were threatening to jump from a building in a dispute with management, though fortunately the issue has since been resolved.

The iPhone and iPad maker said it conducted 229 audits throughout its supply chain in 2011, an 80 percent increase on the number conducted in 2010. “We continue to expand our program to reach deeper into our supply base, and this year we added more detailed and specialized audits that focus on safety and the environment,” the company said.

Apple also said its special educational programs designed to teach supply chain employees about workers’ rights and local employment laws have been brought to over a million employees to date.

This year the company launched a specialized auditing program to take care of particular environmental problems brought to its attention in China. “Third-party environmental engineering experts worked with our team to conduct detailed audits at 14 facilities. We uncovered some violations and worked with our suppliers to correct the issues,” Apple said in its report. There have been several explosions at the factories of Apple suppliers, thought to be the result of a build-up of combustible aluminum dust that comes from the iPad casing polishing process.

As for underage labor, Apple says it believes its zero-tolerance policy is “the toughest in the electronics industry” and that it has seen “dramatic improvements in hiring practices” by its suppliers, with no underage workers found at its final assembly suppliers. However, it did find underage workers at five facilities and as a result insisted those suppliers help the workers return to school.

Regarding working hours, the report said that at least 90 factories were found to have employees working more than the allowed 60 hours per week.

Apple also revealed on Friday that it had become the first technology company to join the Fair Labor Association, a Washington-based group that monitors workplaces around the world.

Apple suppliers who ignore the computer company’s guidelines regarding working practices do so at their own peril, with lucrative contracts at stake in a highly competitive manufacturing market.

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