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It seems as if the news surrounding Apple’s CSR conflicts are here to last for a while.
The manufacturing giant just reported multiple cases of child labour in its supply chain, following increased audits of working conditions at major suppliers last year. A total of 70 out of nearly 400 Apple suppliers were involved in employing under-aged workers, many of whom were recruited and hired with the help of forged identity papers.
What’s more, Apple terminated its relationship with Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics, the supplier where the bulk of the child labour was uncovered.
Is this Apple’s way of coming clean?
"Our approach to underage labor is clear: we don’t tolerate it, and we’re working to eradicate it from our industry," Apple’s report highlights.
But how rational is such claim coming from a company that operates in an industry well known for its complex supply chains?
Even Apple’s senior vice president of operations, Jeff Williams, admitted that child labour is more pervasive in the manufacturing sector than most companies are willing to admit.
Corrective action seems to be a popular approach undertaken by companies when facing non-compliant suppliers. According to the newest Procurement Leaders report series into CSR, 53% of companies have switched suppliers in response to non-compliant supplier behaviour in the past five year. 31% have even gone as far as blacklisting suppliers.
Still, we need to see CSR issues, including the occurrence of child labour, in a cultural context. Surely, the forms of work which deny children access to their rights, such as education, are unacceptable, but what about work that is unlikely to damage educational opportunities, and enables children to helping out their parents with generating income?
We need to keep these issues in mind when we expand our operations into low-cost economies. It is particularly in these geographies where we need to localise our CSR initiatives, check local laws and regulations, and above all, work with our suppliers, rather than deploying corrective plans.
Maggie Slowik is research manager and CSR lead at Procurement Leaders.