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January 16, 2012

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Apple publishes results of supply-chain health and safety audits

Technology giant Apple has revealed the names of all its suppliers and manufacturing partners, together with the results of its supply-chain audits of compliance with health, safety and environmental standards, after concern had been expressed over working conditions and worker well-being at some of its Asian facilities.
Last year, the California-based company – which makes Apple Mac computers and the iPad and iPhone, among other well-known devices – conducted a total of 229 audits throughout its supply chain – an increase of 80 per cent on 2010 – and looked in more detail at occupational safety and health conditions, and environmental issues.
Its supplier code of conduct requires that suppliers act responsibly with regard to, among other issues, occupational injury prevention, safety procedures and systems, exposure to chemicals, ergonomics, and health and safety communication. The overall average compliance rate on worker health and safety issues at the sites audited was 76 per cent.
The company also focused heavily on prevention of underage labour and protection for young workers, and on working hours. Apple has a “zero-tolerance” policy in this area and claims that its system is “the toughest in the electronics industry”. In 2011, it says it witnessed “dramatic improvements in hiring practices”, with the result that cases of underage labour were down significantly.
However, just 38 per cent of suppliers audited were found to be in compliance with its policy of no more than 60 hours in a working week.
In 2009, 137 workers at Apple supplier Wintek’s Suzhou facility in China’s Jiangsu Province suffered adverse health effects following exposure to n-hexane, a chemical in cleaning agents used in some manufacturing processes.
The following year, Foxconn, Apple’s main supplier in China, experienced a spate of suicides among its workforce in Shenzhen. In response, Apple set up a team of suicide-prevention experts to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into the deaths and recommend ways to support workers’ mental health.
In its Supplier Responsibility 2012 Progress Report, the company states it is “committed to driving the highest standards for social responsibility throughout [its] supply base”. It adds: “We require that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made.”
The 156 companies it lists alongside the report on its Supplier Responsibility website account from more than 97 per cent of what Apple pays to suppliers to manufacture its products.

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