After criticism of the conditions under which employees work in Apple’s supply chain, Apple CEO Tim Cook released a statement to Apple employees stating the company hasn’t turned a blind eye to the working conditions of its factory partners, and the company will be investigating those factories even more.
The statement comes on the heels of a lengthy, in-depth New York Times article (link via 9to5Mac) that points out some of the harsh and dangerous working conditions employed by overseas Apple partners in their factories. Apple uses multiple companies to manufacture the components of its devices like the iPhone and iPad, mostly in Asia, and those companies have been known to harbor working conditions that would be deemed untenable in the West. Issues such as underage labor, extremely long hours and unsafe conditions have been noted in several factories.
After the NYT report, which was published on Jan. 26, Cook sent out an email to Apple employees noting that Apple takes on a close role with its supply chain companies, as Mashable reports, and is not turning a “blind eye” to the conditions of those factories. In fact, Apple recently released an audit of its supply chain partners, checking them for issues of working conditions and, the company says, working with them to improve those conditions. But the audit keeps the company names anonymous, precluding Apple and its investigation from revealing who the worst offenders actually are.
Apple suppliers made news several times during the last two years, mostly when tragedy struck factories in Asia. A Pegatron plant in Shanghai suffered an explosion in December, injuring 61 workers, and there was another explosion at a Foxconn plant in May 2011 that killed three workers and injured 15. Both of those incidents were caused by flammable aluminum dust created in the manufacture of iPads. Foxconn plants in particular are known for harsh conditions (and are used by multiple electronics manufacturers for their devices, including Microsoft), where several workers have committed or threatened suicide.
Cook said in the email that the accusations that Apple doesn’t care about supply chain workers is contrary to Apple’s values, and that the company would continue to work to improve conditions:
“We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues. What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word. You can follow our progress at apple.com/supplierresponsibility.”
Obviously, conditions in developing parts of China and Asia have a lot to do with the conditions, and not all the blame can be heaped at Apple’s feet. But this is an on-going criticism that Steve Jobs dealt with during his tenure at Apple as well, and will likely continue to make headlines. Cook says Apple is working to improve conditions, and with additional pressure that’s certainly possible; we’ll have to wait and see just what Apple is able to make happen.
But real change might come down to consumers, as it did with sweatshop manufacturing of clothing in the 1990s: Are consumers willing to purchase electronics made by people under conditions those consumers might find deplorable? It might take a lot more outrage from Apple buyers before some real sweeping changes are seen.