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Will Apple turn over a new leaf when it joins the Fair Labor Association?

17-01-2012
Apple has joined the FLA as the first technology company among a number of garment companies. Is this is a genuine effort by Apple to clean up labour abuses in its supply chain, or merely a way of proving its credentials without actually delivering? For GoodElectronics and makeITfair it is too early to tell. The FLA obligation is to become compliant within the next two years. GoodElectronics and makeITfair will be watching closely to see whether FLA membership means Apple takes action on key problems within its supply chain.

The global electronics sector is characterised by persistent labour rights violations. At the basis are an alarming low level of unionisation and the near absence of collective bargaining, particularly in China. Workers face long working hours in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. Overtime is widespread and often not paid appropriately. The facilities in Apple’s supply chain are no exception, as Apple itself has documented in its supplier responsibility reports.

Engage in dialogue with stakeholders

Apple, however, also has a history of failing to engage positively with groups that have raised concrete problems in Apple’s supply chain. In 2011, GoodElectronics and makeITfair did a campaign on Apple, ‘Time to bite into a fair Apple’, calling upon Apple to improve its communication with international stakeholders. That Apple has now joined a multi stakeholder initiative is in principle a good step forward.
makeITfair and GoodElectronics have specifically pressed Apple to engage in dialogue with trade unions and labour rights organisations to improve working conditions at Apple’s suppliers and support communication and negotiation between workers and management at Apple’s suppliers.
Especially in China this is a challenge Apple clearly has not been able to cope with. FLA does not actively facilitate the formation of unions through democratic elections. Regrettably, union representation on FLA board level is also weak.

Fair prices, delivery times and wages

GoodElectronics and makeITfair have also called upon Apple to improve its purchasing practices. We want Apple to pay its suppliers fair prices and apply acceptable delivery times to allow its manufacturers to pay workers a decent living wage. So far, Apple ignored these suggestions.
We consider purchasing practices a key element of responsible supply chain management. Brand companies should enable their suppliers to meet labour standards and not simply transfer this responsibility to their suppliers.
Unfortunately, FLA seems to accept that its members are unwilling to increase the unit price when placing orders. Also when it comes to wage policies, FLA’s position is little ambitious and leaves participating companies ample space to avoid actually paying a living wage.

Further improve transparancy

GoodElectronics and makeITfair call for improved transparency. As of joining the FLA, Apple has published a list of suppliers, together with its 2012 supplier sustainability report. This is a sure step in the right direction. The list, however, only gives supplier names but no other information.

FLA announces that the facilities in Apple's supply chain will be independently assessed and that and detailed findings will be reported on the FLA website. This may sound positive, but the factual requirement is for FLA to independently assess 5% of each member’s supply base. In the past, FLA has had trouble meeting these independent assessment requirements due to capability limitations.

Conclusion

Summarising, there are serious challenges ahead. GoodElectronics and makeITfair look forward to FLA and Apple engaging with relevant local and international stakeholders, including workers and their representatives, to join forces in bringing about the needed improvements.

Contact:

makeITfair – Irene Schipper
GoodElectronics – Pauline Overeem

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