This is a post by Auret van Heerden, President & CEO of the Fair Labor Association. He recently appeared on CNN to discuss ongoing issues facing workers at Foxconn and how Apple’s recent admission to the FLA will help improve working conditions throughout the supply chain.
Since Apple disclosed its supplier list and the results of its internal audits, reactions have varied from encouragement, to skepticism, to shock. And yes – the very idea of people being injured or killed while working to manufacture the products we buy is appalling. We should be outraged by stories of workers being abused or exploited. But after countless reports over the years about the way workers are treated in factories, it is time to move beyond shock and start actually doing something about it.
We’re well past pretending supply chain issues don’t exist in everything we buy – from clothing and shoes to candy and electronics. There is no perfect product; Apple’s own audits of its suppliers reveal this. If we can ever hope to truly become “ethical consumers” – the kinds of people who won’t settle for one or two “ethically produced” items, but instead demand that everything we buy is produced in a way that respects workers’ rights – we need to know it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If we don’t know what is happening behind the scenes in the factories and on the farms in product supply chains, we will never be able to address the issues and make positive changes.
Ethical consumption starts with transparency. In other words, we can’t take action if we don’t have an open and honest discussion about the realities workers face every day. That’s why we should be encouraged by Apple’s disclosure and willingness to embrace transparency. Apple is not the first company to open up its supply chain to independent assessments, and it is not the first company to publish the results of its internal audits. But it is the first technology company to do so. It’s time for others to do the same.
At the Fair Labor Association, we have worked with dozens of companies over the years to identify issues throughout their supply chains and remediate them in a lasting way. This has not been easy, and clearly there is still a lot of work to be done. One of the best things to come out of these efforts, however, has been a shift in the way companies think about corporate social responsibility. The brands participating in the FLA know that they cannot hide behind promises and well-crafted statements. FLA-affiliated companies have endorsed and promoted the concept of transparency, and know that every time the FLA conducts an assessment of one of their factories, the results will be published. Opening up a company to this type of public scrutiny is hard for managers who like to maintain the prerogative, but the smart ones know that it’s necessary in order to move forward in a credible way.
By opening its doors and admitting the challenges and hurdles it has to face, Apple has taken a necessary first step. As consumers, it is our responsibility to keep the pressure on all of the other brands that have yet to take action. Punishing the companies that are embracing transparency could have a chilling effect on others who are considering taking the plunge. Instead, we should be asking why there are still so many companies who are not disclosing their suppliers and conditions in those facilities. We cannot wait another month or year for other companies to catch up. The longer we’re in the dark, the more dangerous things become for the people who make a living by working to produce what we buy. Let’s hold all companies accountable, and not just a select few.