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Apple Improves Transparency with Release of Supplier List, But Difficulties Remain

Apple released a list of its global suppliers for the first time last week, drawing both praise and criticism from industry watchdogs who have been urging the company to increase transparency in regards to its supply chain.

The company also published its sixth annual report on labor practices among its suppliers. According to the New York Times, the report details “troubling” labor practices. For instance, records at 93 supplier facilities revealed that more than half of workers exceeded a 60-hour-a-week work limit. In addition,108 facilities did not pay proper overtime compensation, and at 15 facilities Apple found foreign workers had paid steep recruitment fees to labor agencies.

Apple increased by 80 percent the number of audits in the report this year to 229 facilities, and the company says conditions have improved at the facilities where it conducted successive audits.

Nonetheless, pressure on Apple and other electronics manufacturers continues to grow from labor rights organizations in the wake of worker suicides and injuries in China.

Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, an advocacy group for workers’ rights, said Apple’s disclosure of suppliers is only a “half-step” in the right direction, because the company did not reveal the location of the facilities, making it more difficult for outside monitoring of labor practices.

Apple did not provide additional comment, but notes in the report that it is the first technology manufacturer to join the non-profit Fair Labor Association and will allow the association to monitor and report on its working conditions.

Despite the improved transparency, Apple’s supply chain, like that of its competitors, is extremely complex and difficult to police. The Times reports that while the list of 156 companies includes 97 percent of Apple’s paid suppliers, it does not include secondary suppliers, which feed many components into the supply chain for products like iPads and iPhones.

Bart King is a PR consultant and principal at Cleantech Communications.

Bart King is the principal of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. He is also Associate Editor of Sponsored Content for Sustainable Brands. Follow him @bart_king [Read more about Bart King]

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