Apple is one of the world’s leading technology powerhouses, harnessing the power of supply chain IT systems to improve their business ethics.  What happens with Apple’s success can impact confidence in the whole tech market, and influence industry practice generally. Supply chain management (SCM) is increasingly driven by SCM systems that allow companies more insight into supplier practices.

Having recently come under some criticism recently by charities for sourcing some of its precious metals from the Democratic Congo, where child labour is a big problem, now the industry leader is turning things around and achieving credit for its efforts to reduce slavery in its supply chain.

This November, Apple was awarded the ‘Stop Slavery Award 2018’ for implementing greater supply chain transparency through its SCM systems.  Powerful tracking and data management systems to manage supply chains better limits opportunities for unethical third party suppliers to exploit child labour in poorer countries, far from view of consumers.

The prestigious news agency, the Thomson Reuters Foundation hosted the Award ceremony, intended to recognise more ethical companies that take real steps to stop forced labour in toxic supply chains.  Given the increasing pressure brought to bear by international charities on companies who do not take their corporate responsibilities seriously, smarter businesses increasingly understand how more effective use of supply chain automation and IT systems can help expose problem areas for industry.

For instance, where the transport and logistics industry is concerned, human trafficking, smuggling and theft are real challenges. Systems that at once simplify administration also add greater scope for scrutiny and identification of problems faster.  Automated weighing at ports together with data transfer of manifests, or other documentation can immediately flag up anomalies to managers observing from user-friendly dashboards.

Those companies who optimise their SCM systems and harness the big data they offer to achieve ethical ends are not just potential winners of this award, they also demonstrate ‘integrity, courage and innovation in cleaning their supply chains’ to all stakeholders, not least business partners and customers, who increasingly demand high standards in business practice.

Apple will hold their year-long licence to show the Stop Slavery Award logo on all of their marketing assets.  Apart from rebuilding consumer confidence possibly lost in the brand of late, participation in the scheme also helps raise awareness on the issue of forced labour in sectors winners of the award work in.

Of course, it is not just positive PR that companies from benefit from when they use their business insights to eradicate modern day ethical problems, there will no doubt be other knock-on impacts in encouraging competitors to clean up their act too and address unfair and illegal labour practices in their supply chains, monitor for risks of people trafficking at vulnerable locations, more effectively mitigate cargo loss and more.  Compliance is made much easier where every stage of the supply chain generates data.

Upon receiving their award, Apple’s head of retail, Angela Ahrendts

told Reuters: “Though we’ve only just started, we see a tremendous opportunity to be a beacon of hope for trafficking survivors by integrating them into our worldwide retail teams.”

Apple produced their ‘Supply Chain Progress Report 2018, in which they explained some of their positive supply chain management impacts made possible through effective SCM systems management.  For example they reveal:

  • their data helped them name the world’s top company for responsible sourcing of conflict minerals, as part of the ‘Enough Project’, which is a non-profit established to end crimes against humanity;
  • Apple were top of the Corporate Information Transparency Index of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs;
  • the company carried out 756 assessments in 30 countries, (i.e. 95 percent of Apple’s total spend). Over one quarter of these were first time assessments;
  • they increased the number of high-performing suppliers by 35%; also low-performers decreased by 71%.

 

Having an ethical policy is one step towards transforming business practice. However, what makes the real difference, is being able to prove that improvements are consistently happening.  This is only made possible with realistic bench-marking, possibly in partnership with industry regulators, or NGO’s.  From here, supply chain automation means that data can be generated and analysed at every point in transactions.  Many companies are finding that independent audit is made easier by effective SCM systems.  Together with easier compliance, improved PR, job satisfaction for personnel, improved efficiency and profitability, the benefits of transitioning to modern supply chain management methods are proven to be the way forward for businesses of every type.