The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs’ Green Choice Alliance, (also referred to as the Green Choice Alliance) a consortium consisting of 36 environmentally focused groups across China, has issued a report which is titled The Other Side of Apple. This report is gaining lots of Web pickup because of the very nature of its title.

On its web site, the Alliance indicates that it is a coalition of NGO organizations that promote a global green supply chain by pushing large corporations to concentrate on procurement and the environmental performance of their suppliers.

International news media is noting that the report consists of a ranking of 29 multinational technology companies based on how each responded to inquiries and concerns related to occupational health hazards at various supply chain factories within China.  Apple was ranked dead last among 29 companies, hence the selection of the report title. We at Supply Chain Matters wanted to actually read this report, but discovered that report currently only exists in its Chinese version.  We trust that the English version will be made available soon, since it is the details, not the headlines of this report that matter most

An article published in the Financial Times (free preview account may be required) referencing the report outlines a specific incident involving the alleged poisoning of workers at Liajian Technology, a subsidiary of Taiwan-based Wintek, which produces touch screen modules for Apple.  In that specific 2099 case, 49 workers were hospitalized for poising due to chemical exposure.  Wintek for its part, indicated that the factory in question stopped using the chemical.  Where Apple is being taken to task by these China based environmental groups was Apple’s refusal to confirm or deny whether polluting or harmful companies were Apple suppliers. Many in our global supply chain community are aware that Apple has a rather unfortunate iron-clad policy regarding not disclosing any details about its value-chain.

While the headlines of this story are indeed disturbing, we believe that more focus should be placed on the positive aspects.  First, the fact that a consortium of dozens of Chinese environmental teams is diligently monitoring workplace and environmental safety, and taking multi-nationals to task, is certainly a positive.  Second, the companies that have been cited as proactive and responsive, namely Alcatel-Lucent, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi, Samsung, Sharp, and Toshiba , should each receive positive accolade.

Apple was not the only company cited as not responsive, but that does not make headlines, especially when Apple was ranked as lowest.  There is also an obvious two-edge sword to Apple’s extraordinary business success.  On the one hand, Apple has been very open and public about declaring its commitment to worker safety and environmental responsibilities across its global supply chain.  On the other, a policy of secrecy and/or supplier protection may not be serving Apple well.

As is the usual case in these affairs, what really matters in the end is how Apple and other multi-nationals respond with concerted actions to their publically declared corporate commitments for social responsibility.  Let us all, as a global community, praise those companies who have placed positive action to their words.

Bob Ferrari