Apple Scores Low On Corporate Responsibility

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For MacAddict and MacUser editor Rik Myslewski has penned the second in a series of essays about Apple’s place in the world for The Register. This one looks at the company’s environmental and philanthropic activity.

Myslewski says that in both areas, Apple has only very recently showed signs of the kind of corporate responsibility commonly displayed publicly by its rivals and peers in the business.

The new green MacBooks only appeared after pressure by Greenpeace, which included public humiliation of the company in the charity’s 2006 Guide to Greener Electronics, where Apple was placed fourth from bottom. There are no records of charitable giving until the recent, sudden support for the Anti Proposition 8 movement in California.

If Apple has been giving more to charity, says Myslewski, it has been doing so under the utmost secrecy. Which leads him to believe that no such giving has taken place at all.

Which, Myslewski declares, is “shameful” for a company with so much cash in the bank. He gives the company an “F” rating for this particular part of the report card he’s writing.

What do you make of it all? Is Apple being treated harshly here, or is Myslewski making a good point?

36 responses to “Apple Scores Low On Corporate Responsibility”

  1. Peter Jackson says:

    It’s none of his business and It’s not his money! So he should STFU!

  2. dave says:

    I think this is crap. Every month Greenpeace gets itself in the news by putting out a lame PR “report” that is either a) Apple is slowly getting slightly better [after a new product release], or b) is flipping endangered turtles on their backs and then placing the turtles on the highway just outside their headquarters in California, then hires trucks to drive from Alaska to California to drive over the turtles.

    Greenpeace will only be happy when Apple goes out of business and everyone goes back to farming land for their own food.

  3. Jonathan Cooper says:

    So let me get this straight, if you have earned a lot, you not only have to give it away, you have to tell this recently deposed editor about it? If Apple pays strict attention to maintaining shareholder value, it will be doing its duty. If Citi and others followed this pattern, I and other taxpayers would be a lot better off.

  4. fruityth1ng says:

    I pay Apple good money, to develop and make good products.

    Not to spend it on charity.

    If I wanted my money to end up at a charity, I’d make sure it got there, myself.

  5. EJ says:

    Both.

    It would be nice if Apple would make more charitable donations. It’s not required, but it would be nice.

    It’s not wrong to point out that Apple seems to make fewer charitable donations than other companies; but I don’t think it’s necessarily the most important thing about the company, even from a social standpoint.

    I also think that you’re wrong about the new green Macbooks appearing because of Greenpeace’s reports; the 2006 report in particular had some questionable methodology, and there’s definite evidence that Apple was working to make their products more environmentally friendly long before that, which led to their being recognized by the Sierra Club as one of the top ten environmentally friendly companies in April that same year.

    Interestingly enough, Greenpeace’s bad report in 2006 focused on the fact that Apple didn’t do as good of a job communicating its plans for environmental responsibility to the public via its website as some of the other companies did, even when Apple’s existing practices were ahead of those of higher-ranking companies. I think that report showed Apple that consumers were more interested in hearing about what Apple was doing about environmental responsibility than they had previously thought, and it seems that their increased disclosure in that area has the potential to not only benefit Apple, but the rest of the industry, as well.

    If Myslewski’s report were going to get nearly the same coverage as the Greenpeace report (which it won’t), and if Apple really were keeping their charitable works far, far under the radar (which Rik wouldn’t bet on), I would talk about how, hopefully, this would have a similar effect in encouraging Apple to tell the public more about their charitable donations. As it is, of course, I expect no such effect.

  6. EJ says:

    @EJ Re:Greenpeace’s report prompting increased disclosure:

    I still think Apple is going in a good direction with this, even though Greenpeace isn’t happy; it looks like they won’t be pleased until Apple provides them with precise numbers and exactly the marketing language they want: see http://www.macworld.com/articl

  7. Louis Wheeler says:

    It is not a function of business to fund charities or social causes. A business’s primary responsibility is to create wealth for its owners and investors. Anything which retards, or diverts attention from, that function harms the business. Its bottom line suffers and it becomes less productive.

    If there are no profits, then the business folds.

    In the process of making money, a business produces products and services that we need to survive and prosper. The actions of businesses cause them to provide jobs and taxes to fund the government. 85 percent of each sales dollar goes to the employees. If they wish to fund charities or social causes, they have the resources to do so. 10% of each sales dollar (up from 2-4% percent a hundred years ago) goes toward the taxes which fund governmental activities. About 5% of each sales dollar (down from 8-10% percent a hundred years ago) goes toward the profits which keep the company in existence. Those profits also fund the R&D which improves products and increases productivity.

    Local businesses find that giving to a charity or Community Service Organization is an effective way of advertising in that it acquaints people with the business and creates good will.

    But, giving to social activities, which are far removed from the interests of the company, are counter productive. If a company were to fund a church, then most of those who expect corporate charity would be up in arms. They would, likely, say that religion and business should be separate. But, they expect that their “Social Secular Faith” be so funded.

    Apple’s headquarters reside in California. It may be to Apple’s advantage to kowtow to environmental causes. Many of the easily proven environmental hazards in manufacturing have been eliminated. But, to exist, the Greens must exaggerate environmental risks. Hence, the causes of the Greens are producing less social benefits while driving up manufacturing costs.

    No company uses a particular chemical unless it solves a problem. Often, environmental fads solve nothing because they are unproven and impart higher business costs. Even so, Apple may find that, because it resides in a fanatically Green State, that it is easier and cheaper to bow to the Green’s extortion.

    Giving money to promote Proposition 8 is another matter. Apple’s board of directors took money from all its share holders to fund social engineering which, in no way, can benefit Apple.

    The shareholders should remind the board that their function is to pursue the owners interest, not their own. If the Board of Directors valued proposition 8, then they should fund it out of their own pockets. Using company funds is malfeasance. The Board of Directors should be forced to justify that to the owners at the next stockholder’s meeting.

  8. imajoebob says:

    Rather retrograde responses for supposedly enlightened Mac users.

    First, since corporations are legally considered as individuals, then they should have the same social responsibility as a person, including working for the greater good. Second, companies have an obligation to stakeholders, not just shareholders. They take advantage of the benefits a community offers, from roads and utilities to schools and police. They should feel obliged to contribute back. And don’t give me any bull about paying salaries and taxes. People do the same and are encouraged/expected to do “good works.”

    Third, my understanding is that Apple has contributed indirectly through their employees. They encourage and support time for community volunteers, matching contributions, and awareness. Much of this cannot be quantified and doesn’t appear as “charity” on the books. At the average salary reported by employment sites of about $50K, and Apple has ~28K employees, then if the average employee spends just 1 hour a year on the clock doing volunteer work – even just giving blood, then Apple donated $1,000,000 of employee salary and benefits.

    I’ve never been that impressed with The Register’s editorial content. Now I’m even less so.

  9. Juan Nunez-Iglesias says:

    I’m all for charity, but charity is voluntary. No one should just be expected to give to charity, especially not corporations. If they were, it would be a tax, not charity.

  10. Mark says:

    If Apple’s owners–its shareholders–want to give their money to charity, then they’re free to do so. In fact, many of them probably already do, voluntarily and according to their own values. It’s certainly not for Apple’s management to do.

  11. Duncan says:

    Apple does everything else covered by a veil of secrecy. Why can’t they do donations in secret as well?

    Just doing donations for the publicity value doesn’t exactly sound like the Apple way.

  12. CJ says:

    Ditto all the above.

    As an Apple shareholder, the last thing I wanted to see was for them to take hard earned cash and fund social engineering propositions in CA. Let them stick the business they do best – making great hardware and software.

    And if the directors want to take their own money and pursue the social engineering and charitable agendas, let them. But don’t force me to contribute to their causes by taking cash out of the company I partially own.

  13. phoenix says:

    Agreed with everyone’s commentary on the Register at the very least – I mean, when have we expected serious editorial integrity from the Register?

    Anyway, I do have to differ with some folks who believe that shareholders and stakeholders aren’t benefited from strong CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) positions. Every company has not just a social or civic duty to invest in the society or region in which it depletes resources (whether those resources be air/water/job talent/space/etc) and while a number of regions benefit simply by having those companies in their area, Apple is hardly the landmark that makes its area a high-value region for technology investment and infrastructure (although it certainly is one of them).

    Shareholders benefit immensely from high public profiles of public companies, and the marketing and feel-good factors that come with strong CSR positions and activities like charity work, job training programs, environmental conservation, and so on. I think we can all remember the hit that Nike took when their subcontractors turned out to be sweatshops, or that Coca-Cola took when they essentially bought up all of the water in an Indian town, leaving the populace to fend for themselves. At the same time, we can all see the positive press that Apple gets when their notebook computers go green, and the shareholders see that benefit as well. When Johnson & Johnson started powering its plants with methane from landfills, they realized that not only were they on a marketing goldmine, but they were also giving themselves the gift of positive market power.

    The market can be very irrational and emotional, and the ability to boost your standing with those so-called soft factors is very real and very beneficial to a company’s bottom line. Think of it as involuntary volunteering. But to try to claim there’s no tie between business activities and social responsibilities is to turn a blind eye to real market effects and suffer tunnel vision to a balance sheet.

    That all being said, there’s a line to be drawn between strong CSR and focusing on your core competencies. Every business should stick to its core competencies primarily, but there’s no denying how well companies like Google have done by dabbling in energy policy and investing in energy projects. Google shareholders eat that stuff up, and by investing in the company send the signal to its leadership that those CSR activities drive up the company’s value – and signal that the company has incredibly smart talent behind the wheel.

  14. Duality says:

    I think it’s a fair report. Whether people with vested interests in Apple hoarding their cash selfishly are happy or not (see the other comments…) is kind of irrelevant.

    The company isn’t responsible. Only recently did they shift to Aluminium and they probably did it moreso for design reasons than environmental ones. They then sort of shoved out the ‘we’re recyclable’ message, but I question how many people will *actually* use the recycling service they provide, IF it is even available in your home country or town.

    It all stinks of greenwashing. I like Apple, I love my iMac and iPhone and all of the software so far despite having been with Windows for about 95% of my time using computers so far. But come on, they’re a selfish company that doesn’t give a damn about the environment. They had to be told to care and even then they just find ways to creatively spin things they were already doing into environmentally friendly moves.

    Greenpeace is doing it’s job. The organization is a ‘watchdog’ and people whining about them are usually the ones on the receiving end of the criticism they dish out (again, see comments made by shareholders… not exactly unbiased!). Last time I checked they still weren’t very far up the ‘eco computers’ list… =/ Also I’m fairly sure a lot of the companies above them didn’t actually have to be told to ‘go green’ like Apple did, it’s just that nobody knows because they don’t push the super-clean image Apple does.

    So, that’s my 2c. I love my new Mac but I do wish it had less of an environmental impact. I also wish Apple actually cared and didn’t just pretend to care now that they’re under pressure.

  15. Crolls says:

    Um, businesses function for its stakeholders — and should be judged according to that standard and no other. Would it be better if Apple fired 100 workers to spend the saved money on charities?

  16. david owens says:

    Apple can afford some charitable giving, but I despise do-gooders, so he needs to shut the f up.

    On the other hand, I love the metal and glass computers, and encourage this trend.

  17. Audrey says:

    Corporate Social Responsibility is an essential component in this 21st century business world and it doesn’t necessary mean giving money. Rather than a hand-out, a Hand-UP would be much much better…

    Check out Hasbro and Levis…

  18. dbruce says:

    Apple could give more but Audrey is right. Giving alone is not even enough. Full corporate social responsibility is also doing things like taking back products at the end of life. Both Dell and HP are far better than Apple at this and they don’t even have their own stores. A simple CSR report would be nice, too. Not having such a report is going to look more and more suspicious as we move away from a free (fall) market economy and start addressing social responsibility. Denying a need for social responsibility is like denying that Greenspan admitted to a flaw in his assessment of the safety of the free market system. We live on a planet with ecosystems in which markets exist only if the ecosystems allows it. Get it? Ecosystems are more important than cheap computers.