Smoking your own hubris is neither cool nor healthy
After returning and taking up the reins of Apple in 1997, Jobs instituted a corporate code of secrecy comparable to Omertà. While information leaks from Apple are not punishable by death, the consequences for perpetrators are severe. It is not unreasonable to assume that Jobs' imperious management style has also stifled the free flow of information internally, especially when it comes to bad news.
Take, for example, the harrowing case of workers at the Wintek plant in Suzou where workers were given N-Hexane, a neurotoxin, to clean touch screens used in Apple's iPods and iPhones because it was faster than using alcohol.
Shortly after the release of the first Green Choice Alliance report on Apple, which documented this case, AFP reported that a Hong Kong-based company spokesman rejected the claims, saying Apple "has a vigorous auditing program that investigates suppliers and other parts of the business chain. We audit throughout... We actually have had an extensive auditing program since 2006".
Clearly the unfortunate flak had no idea what was going on because a few weeks later the company acknowledged the N-Hexane poisoning, devoting a whole chapter of the Apple Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report to the Wintek Shouzou case. Equally clearly, however, for far too long powers that be within Apple's supply chain operations were clueless about what had been going on in Suzhou.
In a side-bar at the start the “Addressing the Use of N-Hexane” chapter of the latest supplier responsibility report its says: “Apple investigates reports of alleged violations in our supply base, ranging from public reports by NGOs to information submitted directly by factory workers.” The report also says that the company became aware of the problem sometime in 2010.
Nokia gets it
In February 2010, a year before the release of Apple's report, Nokia issued an official statement saying it became aware of allegation about the use of N-Hexane at the Wintek Suzhou plant in July 2009 and investigated immediately. Although it confirmed the chemical had not been used on the Nokia production line it nonetheless engaged with Wintek to improve health and safety plan at the Suzhou plant.
So what was Apple doing at the time? Absolutely nothing it would seem.
In its latest supplier responsibility report Apple claims to have audited 127 contractors in 2010 and found 36 in violation of its core code of conduct but not a single case of environmental pollution. Only two suppliers, Foxconn and Wintek, are named.
Given the many serious problems in Apple's supply chain unearthed and reported by the Green Choice Alliance there appears to be considerable gap between what the company thinks is happing and what is actually going on.
Last year, in reply to concerns raised by Apple customer Jay Yerex about the spate of suicides at Foxconn, Jobs wrote that: “We are all over this”. In a subsequent clarification and in regard to its supply chain in general he also said: “You should educate yourself. Apple does more than any other company on the planet.”