Apple Inc.’s Supply Chain, Ethics, and Governance


Apple Company Inc. is one of the most successful manufacturers of the latest technology gadgets as far as the electronic equipment is concerned (Duhigg & Barboza 2012). The company has firms all over the world to quench the demand for the latest technology gadgets like iPad, iPhones, Macbook, and many others (BBC News [BBC] 2012). However, the company has courted controversy on several occasions on the way it is treating employees. In this section, the author will single out laudable, culpable, as well as non-culpable decisions in responding to the pleas of the employees.

Laudable, Culpable and Non-Culpable Decisions

Laudable Decisions

The efforts made by Steve Jobs since Apple’s inception in 1976 till now have led to tremendous technological growth, which has satisfied the consumers (Ruiter 2009, p.24). One of Apple’s plants in China is faced with numerous complaints about the poor conditions under which workers operate (BBC 2011). It is laudable when the management takes action and carries out a comprehensive investigation to resolve the contested issue of labor practices (Bicchieri 2005). Many workers have complained that working conditions are not favorable as they are exposed to dangerous and hazardous working environments. This is according to the New York Times newspaper that reported on the congestion of workers in the plant. Some of the employees worked and lived there (Cohan 2011). More than 200,000 are said to be working in that particular plant, and they complain that they work for more than 60 hours a week (BBC 2009).

Culpable Decisions by Apple Company

There are other cases in which the company had engaged in illegal practices to respond to the employees’ issues (Garzon 2006, p.41). According to reports, the workers claim that they have not been made aware of the occupational hazards or potential effects of dealing with the company’s equipment and materials (Raz 2010). For example, the liquid used to clean the LCD screens was said to be hazardous, and this was not made known to the workers leading to suicide by one employee. The conditions within the plant have made critics label it ‘the white-collar prison’ (BBC 2011).

Non-Culpable Decisions

Apple Company’s facilities in China have made headlines for all the wrong reasons after incidences of suicidal attempts by employees working in the plants have come to the limelight. Foxconn and Inventec are the contracted manufactures working for Apple Company in China. It is non-culpable when the employees commit suicide instead of directing the problems to the authorities to search for solutions. There are ethical procedures that need to be followed and the company should follow laid-down criteria in solving the employee’s problems (Gil 2009, p.61).

Another form of non-culpable decision is evident when the management at Amazon was queried on the factory’s working conditions but refused to comment. They only referred to a section on their website, which legalizes the third party to take part in an audit survey, but the findings are not released to the public (Korsgaard 2009, p.31).

Standard Ways of Placing Blame

Apple Company Inc. has always been on the defensive side despite the numerous complaints emanating from the labor practices, specifically in plants in China. The labor market is said to be very competitive, especially in the industrialized parts of China. Working conditions also vary from one place to the other. This is especially so concerning the working conditions in China, which are not present in other Asian nations (Carlton 2010, p.38).

Foxconn (the Chinese contractor) continues to place the blame on the workers. The company has carried out a labor survey to look into the matter, and according to statistics, a large percentage of workers claim that working conditions were favorable to them. Others report that the workers should be given more working hours. A smaller percentage of the workers complained of the long working hours and the poor working conditions. To the contractor, these statistics postulate that there are no complaints about the poor working conditions on the part of the workers. According to them, it is only a negative mentality on the part of a few workers.

A standard way of placing blame is evident when the management blames the conditions on China’s regulations on overtime for workers. The management is avoiding the blame by associating the problem with the current laws in China which provides for the hours that a worker should be engaged in a day or a week. There is a difference between American and Chinese labor laws. This is concerning the number of hours a laborer should put in on a weekly or daily routine. All these factors put together explains the indifference of foreign investors in China. China, on the other hand, has banned employees from working for extra hours over the normal ones. As a result of this, it is noted that the blame has not yet been verified. It is not clear who should be blamed (Georges 2009, p.27).

Another standard way of placing blame is through the use of anonymous channels. In this case, the individual placing the blame is not keen on revealing their identity, especially when reporting on particular matters to the media. They contend that abuse of employees has existed in the company for many years and nothing has been done so far. They are of the view that if no action is taken, the operations of the company in the country will be affected negatively. This implies that production in Apple Inc. has been emphasized more than the welfare of the human employee.

Human rights activists are of the view that even if the company addresses the issues, China as a country will not change anytime soon. This means that the poor working conditions in factories and other working places in the country will persist. Chinese factory workers are not protected fully physically and legally as far as the working conditions are concerned. So Foxconn is not to blame fully for the current poor working conditions, according to a report from the New York newspaper (Sui 2010).

Standard Normative Doctrines

These are the procedures taken to address problems according to the code of conduct set. It is noted that different businesses have different codes of conduct that regulate their operations. They are important since they inform both the employer and the employee on what is expected from them for the smooth running of the organization. Provisions of business laws governing operations of codes of conduct should be applied in case of any problem or dispute arising in business. Apple Company Inc. has been under scrutiny for alleged mistreatment of workers about poor working conditions. The standard normative doctrine comes in at this juncture to respond to the situation by providing information on the action that should be taken. This is after the labor association comes in to investigate the causes of the problem (Cory 2004, p.43).

Violation of employees’ rights has been investigated by the Fair Labour Association (here referred to as the FLA), which found several instances of abuse of the rights. It was found that the employees worked overtime, a practice that was widespread in the company. To make matters worse, overtime issues were not fully settled as many employees were demanding their overtime arrears. Safety too was a major problem that led to a breach of the code of conduct in the Chinese plant. Workers were exposed to hazardous conditions, which were aggravated by the huge gap in communication between the workers and the personnel concerned. This is as far as safety matters health issues are concerned (Duska 2007, p 61).

The risky working conditions are evident when a blast takes place inside the Chinese plant, where three employees succumbed to injuries. Many others were injured in the blast. This is an indication of the health risks the workers are exposed to in the company.

The business codes of conduct have a provision that recognizes the health and safety of the employees. Any person in the working place has the responsibility to report potential hazards to the appropriate personnel. Officials on the other hand should be cautious when providing hazardous materials to the employees. This is for example the reported chemical used to clean LCD screens, which is poisonous. Such hazards should be explained to the workers in advance.

The normative appraisal is vividly illustrated when the reporters from different media houses provide information on the policymaking process in Foxconn company. They also provide information on the provisions of the working conditions, which have not been reviewed since 2010. It is noted that the code of conduct requires such policies to be updated and reviewed regularly to make sure that the needs of the employees are met to improve the quality of the product and their welfare. Workers have shied away from reporting such incidences to the responsible personnel implying that the freedom of expression has been breached in the company. This is whereby confidentiality is not taken into consideration as workers fear being questioned or harassed (Dancy 2010, p.52).

Corporate Misconduct

Corporate misconduct is evident in the Foxconn factory as the workers continue to cry for help, bemoaning the poor working conditions in the company. The code of conduct should be applied here to protect the employees from being affected negatively by the poor working conditions (Wright 2007, p.48).

The company did respond to the pleas of the workers but it took a lot of time to solve the problem. It was too late when the management swung into action. Workers have perished as a result of the blasts. According to BBC News, the management was informed well in advance of the risks that the workers are exposed to (BBC 2009). This means that the workers in this company are not protected by the corporate code of conduct. In other words, the code of conduct is not for the employees’ benefit. Rather, it is for the benefit of the employer.

The media is an important tool in articulating the needs and aspirations of employees (Rosen 2006, p.37). The workers have reported to the media several on their anxieties and concerns about working in a risky environment. The media has exposed the various problems the workers are going through, problems that other interested parties would not have known about.

The new CEO (who replaced Jobs after his death) plans to visit the plant in China after receiving reports from the media that the employees are working under very poor conditions. The code of conduct is breached when the employees are made to work more than 60 hours in a week. They have not been protected fully by the corporate code of conduct. Though the FLA has made investigations into the matter, no action has been taken so far. But with the media exposing the rot within, there is hope that steps will be taken to address the problem shortly (BBC 2010).

The Chinese government, on the other hand, is protecting the victims from corporate misconduct. The regulations governing the conduct of international business have standards and ethical norms aimed at protecting the employees. This lies squarely on the labor practices in China’s Apple Company. Many times Foxconn has breached the code of conduct, and the employees are suffering as a result (Carlton 2010, p.89).

The monitoring group has made public its findings where 43% of those working in the facility have had accidents in one area of operation or the other. Almost the entire workforce is compensated poorly, and this does not satisfy their daily needs. Worse still, the union that is supposed to represent them does not have the interests of the employees at heart. The representatives of the employees have a perception that they are operating in a dangerous situation. The only body that can respond to the pleas of the employees is the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This international body has the mandate to redefine the code of conduct used at Foxconn and any other branch of Apple Company Inc., which is abusing the rights of the employee (Moore 2010).


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