Smoking your own hubris is neither cool nor healthy
It would seem that, as far as running a responsible supply chain is concerned, those most affected by the famous Jobsian “reality distortion field” are himself and those who work at Apple.
Of course enforcement of environmental regulations in China is often weak and sometimes corrupt. There are, however, plenty of examples of other companies, within the IT industry and in other industries, who do quite a lot better than Apple in China. In response to evidence uncovered by Greenpeace NIKE recently announced its intention to completely “detox” its supply chain by 2020 and the Green Choice Alliance points to many other examples of improvement and best practice.
When it comes to responsibility, however, Apple's preferred language is a bit of a give-away: Supplier Responsibility. In other words, it is not Apple's responsibility but it is doing its best (or not) to get them to behave. This is disingenuous to say the least since it is obviously a joint responsibility.
If Apple ran its own manufacturing – as it used to in the US, Ireland and Singapore – and was found to have perpetrated the same kinds of labor, health & safety violations and environmental abuse as has been occurring in its Chinese supply chain, the company would be sued, its facilities would be shutdown and its management would face charges of criminal negligence.
The Green Choice Alliance makes the point that Apple uses its massive negotiating power to squeeze contractors till the pips squeak. And as Apple has been growing rapidly, so has the environmental impact of its supply chain.
In the last couple of months Apple has made headline for overtaking Excon Mobil to become the world's most valuable company and, for a time, having more cash that the US Government. During the quarter ended 30 June 2011 Apple shipped more than 41 million devices, posted record revenue of USD28.57 billion and a quarterly net profit of USD7.31 billion with a gross margin of 41.7 percent.
I bet the margins for Apple's Chinese manufacturing contractors are not anywhere near as rosy so it is little wonder they all too often give in to the temptation to cut corners.
To be fair to Apple and Jobs, they have done quite a lot to create more environmentally-friendly products and packaging, but its supply chain operations are far from being best-in-class. It can obviously afford to do far better.
Let's hope that Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook, can put focus on creating a more responsible supply chain and burnish its somewhat tarnished reputation. He's certainly the person to do since he is the executive credited with pulling Apple out of manufacturing by closing factories and warehouses around the world and establishing its fully-outsourced supply chain in the first place.