• Apple's Annual Supplier Audit Reveals More Than a Few Disturbing Discoveries

    Apple has published its 2011 Supplier Responsibility report as part of the company's ongoing efforts to ensure "the highest standards of social responsibility wherever our products are made." Notwithstanding, a number of disturbing violations bubbled to the surface.

    According to the audit, Apple learned that some 49 underage workers were employed at 9 different foreign-located facilities. 42 of those workers, however, were stationed at just one of those production facilities. In light of the disturbing discovery, Apple has since ended its working relationship with that facility. Additionally, Apple "required the supplier to support the young workers' return to school and to improve their management systems to prevent recurrences."

    A well known and documented health scare was also addressed in the audit. In early 2010, more than 100 workers at a Wintek facility received medical treatment after being exposed to the poisonous chemical n-hexane gas. Following the regrettable event, Apple says it mandated the facility to halt any and all usage of n-hexane gas and to promptly remedy a number of factory deficiencies, including the plant's ventilation systems.

    As the report notes, there were also instances of bribery - situations that similarly resulted in terminated business dealings. But more unsettling, without question, was the rash of suicides at Foxconn, the Chinese facility that represents Apple's largest overseas manufacturer. Throughout 2010, news of seemingly habitual suicides at the Shenzhen, China plant put both Foxconn and Apple in the headlines.

    According to the audit, Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook ventured to the controversial plant as the process of addressing the suicides began in earnest. In addition to meeting with executives at Foxconn and candidly addressing the matter, Apple obtained the assistance of various suicide prevention experts who similarly assessed the conditions of the plant and its workers. The panel of experts "commended Foxconn for taking quick action on several fronts simultaneously, including hiring a large number of psychological counselors, establishing a 24-hour care center, and even attaching large nets to the factory buildings to prevent impulsive suicides." As expected, a full slate of recommended improvements were also outlined to the executives at Foxconn. "Apple will continue to work with Foxconn through the implementation of these programs, and we plan to take key learnings from this engagement to other facilities in our supply base," the report concludes.

    Apple conducted a total of 127 audits in 2010, 97 of which were first-time audits. To read the full report, click here.

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