Apple Supplier Sustainability Report Shows 24.5% More Audits

Apple released its 2011 Progress Report for Apple Supplier Sustainability Monday, ahead of next week’s Apple shareholder meeting. The report offers several examples of Apple improving worker conditions, employer practices, material sourcing, and other changes in its supply chain, including a 24.5% increase in the number of independent audits on work sites in that chain.

Audits - It’s Not Just the Taxman

In 2009, Apple conducted 102 such audits, including 83 “first-time” audits at facilities that the company had not examined in the past. The other 19 audits were repeat audits at facilities previously visited by the company’s auditors. In 2010, Apple conducted a grand total of 127 audits — one ever 2.87 days — including 97 first-time audits and 30 repeat audits.

“We extended our compliance monitoring program deeper into our supply base,” Apple wrote in its report. “In 2010, we completed first-time audits of 97 facilities and comprehensive repeat audits of 30 facilities, for a total of 288 supplier facilities audited since 2007.”

The results of those audits, according to Apple, show that Apple has improved compliance with its Apple Supplier Code of conduct, which includes the requirement that workers have the right to collective bargaining, waste management standards, worker safety standards, and other aspects of corporate responsibility.

Workers of the World, Unite!

The Safety Dance

Apple came under fire in recent years for worker conditions at some of the plants used by the company’s manufacturers, as well as reports of employee suicides and other issues in the massive supply chain required to bring all those Macs and iOS devices to the hands of consumers.

The report released Monday makes the case for Apple having aggressively addressed these concerns, including an unspecified expansion of worker training, “so that more workers in our supply base understand their rights and protections under local law and Apple’s Code.”

This is important for a high profile U.S.-based company like Apple because many worker safety standards and other regulatory issues range from being much lower to non-existent in China and the other Asian countries where Apple manufacturing takes place. As one of the highest profile companies on the planet at this point, Apple has been under enormous pressure to make sure its supply chain isn’t running amok.

To that effect, the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct places higher standards and more stringent restrictions on its outsourcers than local regulations require, getting the company closer (though not all the way) to Western standards. Apple claims that its policies have resulted in more than 300,000 workers being trained on their rights and protections.

Of Kids & Conflict

Apple also claimed that it had worked “aggressively to prevent the hiring of underage workers” through education, holding third party recruiters accountable, and by equipping manufacturing facilities with “stronger age-verification tools.”

The last major point in the report is in the area of “conflict materials,” which are raw materials used in the manufacturing process that could include sources that are either in armed conflict or are subject to human rights abuses, such as slave labor (or near slave labor). Apple’s report said that the company has identified those materials and sourced them to insure that they are not coming from such areas.

“We mapped the use of potential conflict minerals in our supply chain,” Apple wrote. “We identified 142 Apple suppliers that use tantalum, tin, tungsten, or gold to manufacture components for Apple products and the 109 smelters they source from. Apple is also at the forefront of a joint effort with the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) that will help our suppliers source conflict-free materials.”

[Images courtesy iStockphoto, Apple]