On 27th August 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed Apple’s 2021 Supplier Code of Conduct Report, the most recent available, for information on how the company managed workers' rights in its supply chain.

Supply chain policy (rudimentary)

A strong policy would include the following commitments: no use of forced labour, permission of freedom of association, payment of a living wage, the restriction of working hours to 48 hours plus 12 overtime (without exception), no use of a child labour (under 15 or 14 if ILO exempt), no discrimination by race, sex or for any other reason.

Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, dated January 2rd March 2021 was viewed. The document contained clauses covering:
- forced labour, stating that "suppliers shall ensure that all work is voluntary"
- child labour, stating that suppliers "shall employ only workers who are at least 15 years of age"
- anti-discrimination, stating that suppliers "shall not discriminate against any worker based on age, disability, ethnicity, gender, marital status, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, union membership, or any other status protected by applicable national or local law, in hiring and other employment practices"
- freedom of association, stating all suppliers "shall freely allow workers’ lawful rights to associate with others, form and join (or refrain from joining) organizations of their choice, and bargain collectively, without interference, discrimination, retaliation, or
These statements were deemed to be reasonable
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.

Stakeholder engagement (rudimentary)

Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for companies to demonstrate stakeholder engagement, such as through membership of the Ethical Trade Initiative, Fair Labour Association or Social Accountability International. Companies were also expected to engage with Trade Unions, NGOs and/or not-for-profit organisations which could systematically verify the company's supply chain audits, and for workers to have access to an anonymous complaints system, free of charge and in their own language.

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 auditors but it did not identify 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.

Auditing and reporting (rudimentary)

Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for companies to have an auditing and reporting system. Results of audits should be publicly reported and quantitatively analysed. The company should have a scheduled and transparent audit plan that applies to their whole supply chain, including some second tier suppliers. The company should also have a staged policy for non-compliance. The costs of the audit should be borne by the company.

The report stated: that in 2020 "a total of 1,121 assessments across 53 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 directed the removal of 24 manufacturing supplier facilities and 153 smelters and refiners from our supply chain." The report detailed one finding of debt-bonded labour and one finding of child labour. It stated "In 2020, 9 Core Violations were found (...) related to the labour, human rights and environment sections of our assessment protocol, including "7 instances of working hours or labour data falsification, 1 waste water violation, and 1 air emissions violation".

However, there was neither a clear schedule for audits nor a clear commitment 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.

Difficult issues (reasonable)

Ethical Consumer also deemed it necessary for companies to address other difficult issues in their supply chains. This would include ongoing training for agents, or rewards for suppliers, or preference for long term suppliers. It would also include acknowledgement of audit fraud and unannounced audits, and measures taken to address the issue of living wages, particularly among outworkers, and illegal freedom of association.
Apple did engage in some surprise audits. The report stated: "we increased the number of unnannounced assessments we conducted to more than 100". Apple further stated that "In 2019, Apple interviewed more than 57,618 supplier employees as part of supplier assessments" and "made over 34,000 follow-up calls to participating workers (...) in order to verify that the workers participating in interviews during our assessment were not retaliated against." 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 reasonable 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.


2021 Supplier Code of Conduct and Supplier Responsibility Standards (2 March 2021)

On 27th August 2021, 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.


apple.com (2020)

In August 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed a report via the Business & Human Rights website, first published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in February 2020, entitled “Uyghurs for sale ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang”.

The findings of the report were summarized as follows: “The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.
In all, ASPI’s research has identified 83 foreign and Chinese companies directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through potentially abusive labour transfer programs as recently as 2019”. Apple was listed as one of these companies.

Business & Human Rights had contacted all of the companies named in the report and published their responses. Apple commented on the report stating that it was ‘dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve’.
As the company had not been able to refute the claims made or give full details of action to remedy the situation, the company lost half a mark under Human Rights.


Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report: Uyghurs for sale (3 December 2020)

An article on theguardian.com 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)

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)

In a report released in June 2020, Know The Chain evaluated the efforts of 49 global Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies to forced
labor and human trafficking in their supply chains.. The companies represented the largest in the sector.

Companies were assessed against the following criteria: Commitment & Governance (the highest scoring theme); Traceability & Risk Assessment; Purchasing Practices; Recruitment; Worker Voice; Monitoring; Remedy. The report provided good practices examples and recommendations, evaluated corporate commitments and compliance with relevant regulations, and set out recommendations for investor action.

Industry-average scores out of 100 were given for each criterion, as well as a final average for each company across all criteria. The average score of the companies benchmarked in both 2018 and 2020 had dropped slightly, from 32/100 to 31/100.

Five companies achieved an overall score of 68 and above, with more than three-quarters scoring less than 50/100.

Apple received a score of 68. This was the fourth highest in the benchmark.

The company's scores under each criterion were:
Commitment & Governance 83
Traceability & Risk Assessment 81
Purchasing Practices 30
Recruitment 74
Worker Voice 63
Monitoring 85
Remedy 56

Know the Chain summarised their findings about Apple as follows:

“Since 2018, the company has improved by disclosing practices such as mapping recruitment corridors in its supply chains, prohibiting the use of employment agencies for student workers, and providing information on its supplier selection process. Compared to 2018, the company’s rank decreased by oneplace, as it did not improve its performance and disclosure across themes.”

Additional steps the company could take to address forced labour risks in its supply chains included strengthening its disclosure and practices on the themes of Purchasing Practices, Worker Voice, and Remedy.

As it was among the top performers in the report, Apple was not marked down. This reference is for information only.


KnowTheChain ICT Benchmark Findings Report - 2020 (June 2020)