New years resolutions for Apple’s supply chain – fairtrade electronics?

So, it’s in the news today that Apple have published details of their supply chain and all the issues it has found – with underage workers, overworking, financial mismanagement, etc…. It adds up to a hell of a list of new years resolutions for the tech giant to get stuck into.

So do we commend Apple on making this public, having previously been so secretive despite accusations of poor working practices? Or do we bemoan that Apple has let this go on for so long, or that perhaps due diligence of it’s outsourcing suppliers was not up to scratch?

Either way, it makes me think that coming clean puts a few people’s minds to rest, and gives the company a public accountability that will help those internally who are trying to make change.

But for the thousands of people who worship the Apple empire, and the millions of us who just like our cool ipods and ipads and Macs… it really won’t make much difference in the short term. Only a major faux pas by Apple directly could probably turn that tide, such is the strength of brand loyalty.

For all other technology brands, beware – technology brands have the most diverse, complex supply chains of any sector – with heavy dependance on developing nations for raw materials and in many cases for manufacture. Public awareness and need for transparency is increasing. NGOs are turning their gaze on technology giants. Legislative bodies such as the EU are trying to force all companies to take more responsibilty – although the ‘extended producer liability’ rules are hard to enforce.

In reality, it’s up to the company themselves to investigate, to go back up the supply chain and regularly check the promises of their contractors and suppliers… A cost that often isn’t fully factored in to the outsourcing equation and can often be on the ‘to do’ list for too long, rather than allocating time and resources urgently. Hewlett Packard, for example, is only just ahead of the game, having made the same disclosures last year, which were promised in their 2007 Annual Report. There are also a couple of electronics industry bodies rallying efforts to sort out the supply chain issues all manufacturers face – both social and the Global e-sustainability initiative, and the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition.

As interest and public awareness of these issues increase, how can it be made simple and easy for consumers to understand? How can these businesses get an objective endorsement that they are worth trusting to behave fairly on our behalf? It will become an increasing brand question for all technology brands…

Perhaps it is time for a ‘fairtrade technology’ consumer brand to be created, that stamps approval on the efforts of any companies that do this, and helps us consumers feel another 1% better about whatever brand choice we make….?