VIDEO – Apple supply chain transparency and supplier responsibility must also influence public opinion

Storyteller Mike Daisey promoties consumer awareness about Apple's Foxconn factories in this engaging video.

By Mark Zetter

March 16, 2012 note to readers: Per an article in the Wall Street Journal, producers of the public-radio program “This American Life” retracted an episode with Mike Daisey regarding his performance of, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, saying it contained significant fabrications. You can read the Journal article, here.

Following Jobs’ passing late last year, the Company’s CEO role was filled by an operations and supply chain genius. Apple’s first fiscal quarter earnings, which were just released, more than doubled (+118%) from the same period one year ago. One could easily say things are under control.

Meanwhile, Apple has been transparent for some time with the Company’s responsibility for its supply base by releasing supply chain progress reports. But consumers can also be considered part of Apple’s extended supply chain and controlling the perceptions of [the old?] Apple held by some consumers can be difficult.

Apple’s recent 2012 Progress Report spells out responsible Company practices in the following areas, I believe, in an honest approach providing an intimate [industry-leading?] view into Apple’s extended supply chain.

  • Labor and Human Rights
  • Worker Health and Safety
  • Environmental Impact
  • Ethics
  • Management Systems
  • Worker Education and Development


In this most recent report, and on the minds of many in the tech sector and in human rights groups across the globe, Apple takes a seat at the table of public opinion with both hands visible and palms facing upward – its body language clearly indicating a willingness to cooperate – while citing numerous violations and areas of concern.

Given the very public reporting about suicides at global EMS provider Foxconn (an Apple manufacturing partner) and the low wages combined with often large amounts of overtime many employees as part of Apple’s supply chain oceans away from Cupertino have been subjected to, its important to note Apple does not bury reporting on these violations deep in its report but, instead, takes the commendable position by beginning its 2011 report with its section on Labor and Human Rights out in front. At the top.

But, whether Apple can effectively manage its supply base and bring about real change remains to be seen.

Last year, performer and monologist Mike Daisey, further expanded his one-man storytelling repertoire in front of audiences with his new performance titled: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Daisey talks about Apple, and Steve Jobs and Foxconn plus what he believes Apple represents in our culture to today.

Although the new face of Apple is now CEO Tim Cook, Apple does face the task of managing public perception of the house Steve Jobs built.


Monologist Mike Daisey performing 'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.'


In doing research for his performance last year, Mike Daisey (pictured above, on stage during one of his performances) traveled to southern China and while undercover, brilliantly investigated and got dozens of Foxconn employees to speak with him about how some Apple products are made and the working conditions under which they are made. (See also, video: Foxconn workers talk about factory life in documentary)

The old Apple?
Moving forward, based on recent actions Apple has taken stepping up supply chain management efforts and providing a greater level of supply chain transparency – in part by publicly releasing it list of suppliers – combined with the detailed information in 2012 Progress Report, Apple leaves no doubt in my mind it aims to change its story.

In a 2011 C-SPAN Q&A session, Mike Daisey shares his insight from his experiences and investigations in China and his development and performance for audiences of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and how this body of work relates to Apple as a public company, with responsibilities to the public, and Apple products.



“I first got to Hong Kong, I worked with a fixer who had worked with the BBC, to try to get connections to other factories throughout the Special Economic Zone to try to do something officially, above board. And that was hopeless, and it led nowhere.

And it was very, very clear as the days went on that this was not going to work at all. That if I followed the rules of engagement, the rules of engagement for journalism in China are very clear. No one there is incentived to let anyone talk to you about anything, because you’re just going to tell a terrible story about the things that they know are wrong.”

–Mike Daisey


But, regardless whether a company is private or public, for-profit; non-profit or not-for-profit, a company must be ‘profitable’ if it wants to do more than just sustain operations.

And, like any profitable enterprise, many consumers are likely to believe vendors that make up Apple’s supply chain are focused on lowering costs (to increase profits) while increasing productivity – all while maintaining quality. But, in this equation something has to give.

One can’t be exclusive of the others.

But, Apple is one of the world’s most iconic brands and industry, and the world, will be watching to see how Tim Cook manages the public’s perception of Apple – and the Company’s future.


Disclosure: Author owns, and regularly enjoys, several Apple products.

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