“Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Report” or “Apple Suppliers’ Responsibilities Report”?

After reading Apple's Supplier Responsibility Report, we think Apple used the wrong title to describe its contents. Forgive the English major in us, but rather than use an apostrophe to indicate ownership responsibilities that Apple has for its suppliers actions, the content suggests that Apple should have used an apostrophe to distance itself from its own responsibilities -- moving the possession from "Apple" to "Suppliers." At least that is how we read a report that we believe hides behind selective disclosure of information while distancing itself from the fundamental problem.

To wit, Apple expects -- and ultimately compels -- its suppliers to perform in a certain manner across a range of sustainability requirements. Rather than taking responsibility for how it manages suppliers itself through active collaboration, joint improvement and continuous development -- actions which would result in a much more aggressive program not just centered on sustainability to check the proverbial CSR box, but also joint cost take-out with suppliers in the process.

It's clear to us that Apple is most concerned with reporting on what its suppliers are doing -- not on the broader practices that Apple is taking to improve overall supply chain CSR outcomes. By taking this approach, Apple will always be serving as watchdog over supplier behaviors, rather than as a partner who treats the supplier's success as its own -- and their challenges as its own challenges. While the velocity of Apple's supply chain might be significantly faster than other industries, it's behavior and posturing when it comes to sustainability reporting seems more like old school procurement than anything else.

Ultimately, the question that Apple must ask itself is how important sustainability is as a core philosophy in operating its supply chain and working with its suppliers. No doubt, as Apple insiders in a recent NYT article suggest, Apple could fix the sustainability problem if it treated it like a quality problem which needed to be rooted out. But that would require placing emphasis on where the apostrophe really belongs. Changing how it engages with suppliers and placing sustainability as a core business issue, instead of creating a scorecard in which it periodically leverages to see how suppliers stack up on an annual basis.

- Jason Busch

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