Supply chains describe the journey that every raw material makes from the time that it is harvested, through the processing of that material, all the way to the point where it is delivered to Apple for use in manufacturing our product. The supply chains also include every company and person who works on the supply of materials which are sold to Apple. It is a requirement that the Apple supply chain promote good business practices and the ethical treatment of workers and communities affected by sourcing activities. Compliance with the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct ensures that Apple products are aligned with international standards with respect to: labor and human rights; the absence of discrimination, harassment or abuse in the workplace; the absence of involuntary labor, underage labor and human trafficking; protection of student workers; reasonable working hours, as described in the code; compliance with minimum wage laws; freedom of association and collective bargaining; health and safety requirements, including occupational safety management; incident management; decent working and living conditions; health and safety training of workers; all local laws relating to permits required and environmental aspects; handling requirements of regulated substances; responsible waste management practices, including storm water; compliance with requirements regarding air emissions, noise levels and other possible pollutants; ethical practices; responsible sourcing of minerals; and business integrity (Apple, 2017). It is important to note that these rules apply not only to employees and contractors working directly for the Apple supplier, but also to any companies or individuals who serve as suppliers to direct suppliers of Apple.
It is useful to review some of the changes that have occurred over the last decade in the Supplier Code of Conduct. The requirements which are listed in the document, and the expectations of Apple and its customers, have increased as a means of responding to problems that have been noted in the industry.
An addition to the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct in recent years is found under the heading of “Responsible Sourcing of Minerals” (Apple, 2006; 2017). This is an extremely important area of concern, as in recent years there have been discoveries of unethical and inhumane practices associated with the mining of essential minerals used in production, such as cobalt, gold, tantalum and tungsten (Faber, Krause, & Sánchez de la Sierra, 2017). The practices at artisanal mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have led to increasing attention by the world community (Faber et al., 2017). Some of the problems identified include child labor, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of ethical behavior or integrity in business dealings (Faber et al., 2017). Another important issue which is monitored is the mining of minerals which is used to finance armed terrorist groups (Apple, 2016). Cobalt is needed for the production of smartphones and other products; however, the world’s greatest sources of cobalt are also located in areas with some of the worst issues in relation to working conditions, poverty and violence (Faber et al., 2017). The responsibility for ensuring ethical mining practices in the procurement of cobalt lies with every supplier or broker, along with Apple as the purchaser of the material. The application of the ethical mining principles, and associated maintenance of minimum standards in working conditions as described in the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct, is not limited to cobalt but rather applies to every mineral which is supplied to the company. If your company supplies minerals to Apple it is important that you familiarize yourself with these standards, including the certification of mines as free from inhuman practices.
At no time should persons under the age of fifteen or the minimum working age, whichever is higher, be employed in the harvesting, production or supply of any product which is subject to the code (Apple, 2017). Both Apple and the international community have a strong belief that children should not work, and should have the opportunity to go to school (Apple, 2016). Suppliers who have been found to be in breach of this provision will be required to take corrective action, which includes but is not limited to returning the child to their home, and pay for their schooling and basic needs until the child reaches the legal working age (Apple, 2016). Diligence in this area is important, and if your suppliers are allowing children to work in the production of goods which are supplied to Apple, then you or your company is in breach of the code and subject to making reparations for each of these children.
Apple supports the environment, and unsustainable practices which pollute the air, ground or water are violations of the code (Apple, 2016). In addition to any local laws, Apple requires suppliers to conform to the expectations in the code (Apple, 2016). In some cases, best practices and standards are still subject to continuing research as part of regulatory reform efforts (Apple, 2016). At a minimum, suppliers must ensure that they take all possible actions to ensure the safety of their operations for workers, the surrounding communities and end-users by minimizing hazardous substances in their operations and reducing hazardous waste from operations using all possible means (Apple, 2017). Apple is committed to working with various stakeholders, including civil society groups and governments, to determine appropriate standards and processes to be followed (Apple, 2016).
Another important requirement for suppliers is that working hours be limited to sixty hours per week (Apple, 2017). Working more than sixty hours per week is dangerous and has a negative impact on family life and keeping other duties and responsibilities (Apple, 2016). Apple uses new technologies to track compliance with work hour requirements of suppliers (Apple, 2016). This technology provides Apple with weekly reporting of the workhours of the employees and contractors of suppliers, and it has been in place since 2015 (Apple, 2016). Compliance rates have risen to 97% since Apple introduced remote monitoring of the working hours of the employees of suppliers (Apple, 2016).
Apple conducts regular audits of the Supplier Code of Conduct to ensure compliance. There are also investigations of allegations of any breaches of this code. A finding of non-compliance with the code is a serious violation of the ethical responsibility that Apple has to its customers and to the business community. Suppliers who have violated the code and are unwilling or unable to rehabilitate their practices will be subject to termination of the contract and potential criminal or other charges, where local laws are also involved (Apple, 2016). It is not good enough for a supplier to claim they were unaware of problems or violations, including those of suppliers who work with companies who directly contract with Apple. To date, at least twenty companies have had their contracts with Apple terminated due to serious violations of the code (Apple, 2016). Ensuring that the responsibilities in the code are kept is of the utmost importance in order to maintain a relationship with Apple, and by extension, suppliers of materials and products which are sold to Apple for the production of goods.
Thank you for your time in considering the importance of the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct, as adherence to these items helps to ensure a better Apple product as well as a better world for the millions of workers who help us to produce them through our suppliers.
- Apple. (2006). Apple Supplier Code of Conduct. Retrieved from: https://www.ilr.cornell.edu/sites/ilr.cornell.edu/files/apple-supplier-code-of-conduct.pdf
- Apple. (2016). Supplier Responsibility 2016 Progress Report – Apple. Retrieved from: https://images.apple.com/supplier-responsibility/pdf/Apple_SR_2016_Progress_Report.pdf
- Apple. (2017). Apple Supplier Code of Conduct. Retrieved from: https://images.apple.com/supplier-responsibility/pdf/Apple-Supplier-Code-of-Conduct-January.pdf
- Faber, B., Krause, B., & Sánchez de la Sierra, R. (2017). Artisanal Mining, Livelihoods, and Child Labor in the Cobalt Supply Chain of the Democratic Republic of Congo. CEGA White Papers. University of California.