In October 2016, Ethical Consumer viewed an article by Reuters dated 28 August 2015, titled, "Pentagon teams up with Apple, Boeing to develop wearable tech". The article stated, "U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter awarded $75 million on Friday to help a consortium of high-tech firms and researchers develop electronic systems packed with sensors flexible enough to be worn by soldiers or molded onto the skin of a plane." "The technology also could ultimately be used to integrate sensors directly onto the surfaces of ships or warplanes, allowing real-time monitoring of their structural integrity."
As such Apple lost a whole mark under Arms and Military Supply.


Pentagon teams up with Apple (28 August 2015)

In May 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed Apple’s 2019 Supplier Responsibility Report, the most recent available, for information on how the company managed workers' rights in its supply chain.


Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, dated January 1st 2020 was viewed. The document contained clauses covering forced labour, child labour, anti-discrimination and freedom of association which were considered adequate. It also contained clauses relating to working hours and wages. The latter was considered inadequate as it only required the payment of legal minimum wages, not living wages. The former was considered inadequate because it only stated that a workweek should be restricted to 60 hours and workers shall have at least one day off every seven days, except in emergencies or unusual situations. The Code of Conduct stated “This Code applies to Apple suppliers and their subsidiaries, affiliates, and subcontractors”.
Apple’s Supply Chain Policy was considered to be rudimentary.


Apple was a member of the Responsible Business Alliance. However, as an industry-only body (with no membership from NGOs or trade unions), this was not considered to be a multi-stakeholder initiative.

Apple stated that it worked with third party auditers but it did not idenfity them. It was thus considered that there was no real evidence of systematic third party involvement with auditing or managing the supply chain except with regard to specific commodities like tin.

Apple stated: "Our Code and Standards include non-retaliation protections and feedback channels, including grievance mechanisms at supplier sites. External third-party anonymous hotlines and the ability to contact the Apple Supplier Responsibility team directly at any time and in any language ensure that these requirements are upheld." On this basis, the company was considered to have an an adequate complaints process.

Overall, Apple was considered to have a rudimentary approach to stakeholder engagement.


The report stated: that in 2019 "a total of 1,142 assessments across 49 countries were completed." There was a breakdown of results and details of consequences for non-compliance - corrective action plans and ultimately removal of suppliers - the report stated "Since 2009 we have removed 145 suppliers, including 22 manufacturing supplier facilities and 123 smelters and refiners." The report detailed one finding of debt-bonded labour and one finding of child labour. It stated "In 2019, of the 12 Core Violations found in the labor and human rights category, 10 were related to working hours violations."

However, there was neither a clear schedule for audits nor a clear committing to auditing the whole supply chain. No mention of the costs of audits could be found. Apple was considered to have a rudimentary approach to auditing and reporting overall.

Apple did engage in some surprise audits. The report stated: "In 2019, we conducted 70 unannounced assessments and investigations where the supplier facility was provided no advance notice". Apple further stated that "In 2019, Apple interviewed more than 52,000 supplier employees as part of supplier assessments and made over 31,000 follow-up calls to participating workers to verify that they did not experience retaliation as a result of being interviewed during the assessment." These were considered a very rudimentary attempt to deal with audit fraud.

There was some discussion of particularly vulnerable migrant workers, and Apple stated that it was "mapping the higher-risk migration corridors for foreign contract workers" and was making some attempt to interview them. There was, however, no mention of other difficult issues such as banned trade unions, outworkers, or living wages. Overall Apple was held to have a rudimentary approach to difficult issues.

Overall, Apple received Ethical Consumer’s middle rating for supply chain management overall and lost half a mark in this category.


Apple 2020 Supplier Responsbility Report (18 May 2020)

In June 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed Apple’s website and found that it developed facial recognition technology.

The technology was considered to be insufficiently regulated and to pose a major threat to civil liberties when used for surveillance purposes.

On the use of facial recognition for surveillance, UK campaign group Big Brother Watch stated: “Live facial recognition in public spaces is a mass surveillance method and a huge expansion of the surveillance state. It inverts the vital democratic principle of suspicion preceding surveillance, treating populations like suspects.”

The company lost half a mark under the Human Rights category.

Reference: (2020)

An article on dated December 2019 reported that Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla had been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Washington DC by human rights firm International Rights Advocates on behalf of 14 parents and children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

It stated “The lawsuit, which is the result of field research conducted by anti-slavery economist Siddharth Kara, accuses the companies of aiding and abetting in the death and serious injury of children who they claim were working in cobalt mines in their supply chain.

The families and injured children are seeking damages for forced labour and further compensation for unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

As a result, the company of lost half a mark under Ethical Consumer's Human Rights category.


Apple and Google named in US lawsuit over Congolese child cobalt mining deaths (16 December 2019)

The 2019 Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) Corporate Accountability Index evaluated “the world’s most powerful internet, mobile ecosystem, and telecommunications companies on relevant commitments and policies, based on international human rights standards.” The research was based on company policies that were active between January 13, 2018 and February 8, 2019. The new information published by companies after that date was not evaluated.

The RDR Index scores represented the extent to which companies were meeting minimum standards. This information was ranked since “people around the world still lack basic information about who controls their ability to connect, speak online, or access information, or who has the ability to access their personal information under what circumstances.” Over time, some regulations contributed to reinforce the disclosure and policies on human rights within the companies, but others made it harder.

The RDR Index evaluated 24 companies on 35 indicators examining three main categories as follows:
“Governance: Threats to users caused or exacerbated by companies’ business models and deployment of new technologies are not well understood or managed. ”
“Expression: Transparency about the policing of online speech remains inadequate.”
“Privacy: Most companies still fail to disclose important aspects of how they handle and secure personal data.”

The RDR Index assessed company disclosure at the overarching “parent” or “group” level as well as those of selected services and or local operating companies (depending on company structure). Companies received a cumulative score of their performance across all RDR Index categories, and results showed how companies performed by each category and indicator.

Apple was one of the 24 companies rated in the 2019 report. It scored 46% overall. The Company Report Card for Apple stated:
“Apple placed seventh among the 12 ranked internet and mobile ecosystem companies in the 2019 Index. As in previous Index rankings, Apple’s low score relative to its U.S. peers was due to its lack of governance and oversight over human rights risks, and also lack of clear disclosure of policies affecting users’ freedom of expression.2 On privacy and security issues, Apple remains near the top of all ranked companies in this Index. It was the only company to clearly disclose it does not track users across the internet, and disclosed more about its encryption policies than its peers. For its mobile operating system, Apple also disclosed more than Google’s Android and Samsung’s Android about options users have to control location tracking on iOS.
But Apple should be more transparent and accountable to users about policies and practices that affect freedom of expression: Of the user agreements evaluated in the RDR Index, Apple's were among the least accessible. It also lacked adequate disclosure about its rules and how they are enforced. While it disclosed data about government requests to restrict accounts, it disclosed no data about content removal requests, such as requests to remove apps from its App Store.”

Only eight of the 24 companies evaluated scored 50 percent or higher. The highest score was 62 percent. This showed much room for improvement. All companies evaluated in the RDR Index could make many improvements immediately, even in the absence of legal and policy reform.

All the companies ranked, except those which scored 50 percent or higher, lost half a mark under Human Rights.


2019 Corporate Accountability Index (2019)

Ethical Consumer viewed a report from China Labor Watch released in September 2019 and called "iPhone 11 Illegally Produced in China".

It detailed extensive labour abuses at Zhengzhou Foxconn factory supplying Apple, based on undercover reporters who had worked at the factory for four years. Dubbed Apple’s “iPhone City”, Zhengzhou Foxconn is the largest iPhone factory in the world. Spanning 1.4 million square meters, it is here that workers toil daily to produce half of the iPhones sold worldwide.

Among the findings, the report detailed that wages were insufficient to support a family living in Zhengzhou, and social insurance contributions fell short of the legal requirement. The report also alleged that Foxconn had violated restrictions on overtime and dispatch workers as stipulated under Chinese labour law. During peak seasons, workers at Zhengzhou Foxconn reportedly worked at least 100 overtime hours a month under pressure to meet targets, exceeding the legal maximum.

The report alleged that although Apple and its supplier Foxconn are aware of these restrictions on dispatch workers and overtime work hours, they do not implement these regulations.
Findings on working conditions at Zhengzhou Foxconn highlights several issues which are in violation of Apple’s own code of conduct. Apple has the responsibility and capacity to make fundamental improvements to the working conditions along its supply chain, however, Apple is now transferring costs from the trade war through their suppliers to workers and profiting from the exploitation of Chinese workers.

As a result Apple lost a full mark in the Workers' Rights category.


iPhone 11 Illegally Produced in China (September 2019)

Apple Inc was given an overall rating of 3 out of 4 by Amnesty International in 2017 in relation to the company's cobalt sourcing practices.

In its report, Time to Recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain, published in November 2017, Amnesty International looked at the performance of 29 companies, comprising Huayou Cobalt (the smelter and “choke point” in the supply chain) and 28 downstream companies. All had been identified in the course of research for the 2016 report 'This is What We Die For' to have possible supply chain links to Huayou Cobalt and included five automakers contacted after publication of the 2016 report.

The report summarised the cobalt supply chain as follows:
- Artisanal mines
- Intermediaries (in the case of child miners)
- Licensed buying houses in Musompo and Kapata
- Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM)
- Huayou Cobalt, China
- Lithium-ion battery component manufacturers
- Electronics and car companies

Apple Inc was one of the nine computer, communication & consumer electronics
companies in the report which sourced cobalt for its products.
At the time the report was published, more than 50% of the world's cobalt (an essential element of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries) originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with 20% of that cobalt coming from artisanal miners. An earlier report by Amnesty International published in 2016 ('This is What We Die For') had documented serious human rights abuses in artisanal cobalt mining in southern DRC and exposed how miners operating outside of authorised zones worked in extremely dangerous conditions, lacked basic safety equipment, had limited access to legal protections, and suffered from chronic illnesses including fatal respiratory diseases. In addition, children as young as seven had been found to be working in the mines. The report also assessed the cobalt sourcing practices of 26 companies and concluded they had all failed to conduct human rights due diligence in line with international standards.

Two years on, 'Time to Recharge' documented the extent to which those companies and others had subsequently improved their cobalt sourcing practices. The report rated Apple three out of four after finding it had taken:
- adequate action in relation to investigating its supply links to the DRC;
- adequate action in relation to establishing robust policies and systems to detect human rights abuses in its cobalt supply chain;
- adequate action to identify human rights risks and abuses;
- moderate action to disclose information about human rights risks and abuses in its supply chain;
- moderate steps to mitigate human rights risks or remediate harms related to its cobalt supply chain.


Time to Recharge: Corporate Action and Inaction to Tackle Abuses in the cobalt supply chain (2017)