How serious is Apple about CSR?

“Apple is committed to the highest standards of social responsibility across our worldwide supply chain. We insist that all of our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes. Our actions — from thorough site audits to industry-leading training programs — demonstrate this commitment.”

This is what Apple states on its website. This commitment might be true or not, but there is evidence that there is still a huge gap between this statement and the execution. The most famous example is the investigation at Foxconn, a big supplier of Apple, where the Fair Labor Association “found excessive overtime and problems with overtime compensation; several health and safety risks; and crucial communication gaps that have led to a widespread sense of unsafe working conditions among workers.” Additionally Apple claims that they go beyond the industry standard in their manufacturing process – this might seem to be great, but if one knows how the standards are now with low wages and plenty of working hours this is not enough.

Looking on the environmental side, Apple seems to be very transparent about its commitment to reduce the environmental impact of its products. This ranges from the non-use of hazardous materials to the calculation of the carbon footprint and less packaging. Additionally it aims to design its products to be as energy efficient and recyclable as possible. This has benefits for the environment and for the company and Apple should be acknowledged for this effort. These actions towards a greener company are well recognized amongst the customers, as stated in a survey by TDG in 2008, where 1512 internet users rate Apple as the most environmentally friendly technology brand. In contrast Greenpeace rated Apple 11th out of 17 rated companies in its Guide to Greener Electronics 2009. This created a gap between the perceptions of the customers and the reality. This gap is quite dangerous, because in case the perception of the customers is revealed to be untrue this would cause a huge damage on Apples reputation. The company already works hard to close the gap and went up five places in the Guide to Greener Electronics of Greenpeace from the ninth to the fourth place in 2011.

The story behind Apple’s environmental footprint

Still, after some research, Apples CSR activities seem to be more reactive than proactive and especially in the environmental sector due to pressure of environmental groups. According to some resources Apple lacks behind the CSR activities of its competitors, this is most probably because of the former CEO Steve Jobs, who valued the best technology for people more than random donations to charities (Chun 2011). Random donations to charities which Jobs did not like are not CSR for me neither, CSR is not how much money a company gives to the community, CSR is HOW a company makes business. And here is room for improvement.

The current situation of Apple is the chance of CEO Tim Cook to develop and introduce a proper CSR strategy. The strategy needs an innovative and inspiring vision which is aligned with the core values of the company and serves the cool image the company worked hard on. It needs to promote trust and openness internally and implement a continuous stakeholder dialogue to ensure the survival of the brand. Nobody wants to own products which are related with inhuman working conditions. Apple is highly innovative and should use its skills for social innovation. They have the potential to come up with innovative solutions for global challenges. Apple should not miss the possibility to become an innovator in CSR activities and to set a new standard in the technology sector with a cool sustainability vision. It’s time for a green Apple!

Resources, last accessed 07.05.2012:

Apple (2012) Supplier Responsibility at Apple, http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/

Apple (2012) The story behind Apples environmental footprint, http://www.apple.com/environment/

Chun R (2011) Corporate Social Responsibility at Apple, http://www.imd.org/research/challenges/TC061-11.cfm

Fair Labor Association (2012) Complaints and Investigations, http://www.fairlabor.org/report/foxconn-investigation-report

Greenpeace (2011) Guide to Greener Electronics, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it/Campaign-analysis/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics/


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