Speaking at today’s Goldman Sachs keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook began by bluntly addressing charges of worker abuse in Apple’s supply chain: Apple will not rest until every worker is guaranteed a fair, safe working environment without discrimination and at a competitive salary. Any suppliers who don’t take care of their workers will be fired.
“First thing everyone should know is that Apple takes working conditions very seriously, and we have for a very long time,” said Cook. “Whether they are in Europe, Asia or the United States, we care about every worker. I’ve spent a lot of times in factories personally, not just as an executive. I worked in papermill in Alabama and an aluminum factory in Pennsylvania; I care, and we have hundreds of employees who work in our factories full time. They care too. We are very connected to worker conditions on a granular level.”
“The supply chain is complex, and the issues surrounding it. Our commitment is very simple. We believe every worker has the right to fair and safe working environment, without discrimination, and earn a competitive salary. Our suppliers must live up to this to keep working with us.”
One thing Cook was adamant about was that providing education to supply chain workers was part of Apple’s commitment to worker rights.
“We believe education is the great equalizer. We provide free classes in many of our factories to provide workers education on computers, becoming entrepreneurs, and more. Over 60,000 employees have attended these classes. If you could take all of these people and put them in one place, it’s a larger uni versity than Arizona State.”
What else is Apple doing to reduce worker abuse in its extensive supply chain?
“We think the use of underage labor is abhorrent,” says Cook. “It’s extremely rare in our supplier chain, but our top priority is to eliminate it entirely. We’ve done that in final assembly, but we’re now working our way down. If we find a supplier who intentionally hires underage labor, it’s a firing offense.”
Other points Cook mentioned:
• “No one can cut corners on safety. For any process, we consult the foremost authorities on safety in the world and cut out a new standard, which we then apply to the whole supply chain.”
• Attention to details: “If a fire extinguisher is missing from a kitchen at one of our factories, then that facility doesn’t pass inspection until that extinguisher is replaced.”
• Apple is reporting weekly data on compliance on worker hours on their website on a monthly basis, in the issues of transparency.
• Apple has asked the Fair Labor Association to undertake a major audit of all of Apple’s supply chain. Cook says this will “probably be the most detailed factory audit in the history of manufacturing, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.”