Apple releases 2014 Supplier Responsibility Report

Madeleine Swain
14 February, 2014
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In a move that should hopefully cheer ethically minded Apple lovers everywhere, the Cupertino, California tech company yesterday published its 2014 Supplier Responsibility Report.

The report details the results of Apple’s supplier audit program for the previous year, and covers such areas as education of workers, workplace health and safety, environmentally responsible practices and ethics in the supply chain.

As we reported back in 2011, when the Supplier Responsibility Report for 2010 was released, “The discussion of social responsibility in these factories — and Apple’s role in facilitating it — has increased in recent years, roughly in proportion to Apple’s escalating popularity. To tackle the subject more directly, Apple began auditing its supplier’s facilities in 2007 to verify that they meet, or are aspiring to meet, various criteria of its Supplier Code of Conduct, a series of guidelines that is modelled after (but, according to Apple, are more stringent than) the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct. Apple also created its aforelinked Supplier Responsibility site and has been publishing its reports.”

One of the most pressing issues three years ago, however, was the use of conflict-free materials and the sourcing of minerals used in Apple products from war-torn regions of Africa. This complex issue is still high on the watch list.

In 2011, Macworld Australia noted, “Apple has been mapping its supply chain and working with the the Extractives Workgroup, a joint effort of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, to validate conflict-free sources and comply with new provisions of the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection and Wall Street Reform Act, which became US law in July 2010.”

Of particular concern was the sourcing of two key materials for Apple hardware: tanatalum and tin. “The gathering of tantalum, along with other minerals such as gold and tungsten, has become a controversial subject in the tech industry due to their sourcing at mines blamed for funding conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),” says MacRumors. The graphic below details the challenges of sourcing the mineral, which is greyish silver, heavy, very hard and used in electrical components by Apple.

Image: Bloomberg Businessweek

The 2014 Report confirms that Apple’s partners only use ethically sourced tantalum.

In its 2014 Report Highlights, Apple gives a tick to two claims: “Confirmed in January 2014 that all active, identified tantalum smelters in our supply chain were verified as conflict-free by third-party auditors” and “Released a list of the smelters and refiners whose tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold we use so it’s clear which ones have been verified as conflict-free.”

As MacRumors reports, Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations, discussed the issue with The Wall Street Journal (subscription required). ”The company has had success in pressuring tantalum smelters to agree to a third-party audit because Apple and other consumer electronics firms are the biggest users of the metal,” Williams told The Journal.

Along with the information about ethically sourced tantalum, the 2014 Report also claims that Apple:

  • trained 1.5 million workers on their rights in 2013 and over 3.8 million since 2007
  • drove its suppliers to achieve an average of 95 percent compliance with the standard maximum 60-hour working week
  • required suppliers to reimburse US$3.9 million in excess foreign contract worker fees
  • enrolled 240 supplier participants covering over 270,000 workers in its Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Academy
  • launched the Clean Water Program pilot with 13 supplier sites to increase reuse and recycling, and
  • for the first time publicly released more than 100 pages of comprehensive requirements behind our Supplier Responsibility Standards.

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