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Apple taps academics to advise Supplier Responsibility program

Looking to further its efforts to improve working conditions within its worldwide supply chain, Apple is turning to a community of academics, establishing an academic advisory board to study and recommend courses of action to the iPhone maker.

Map showing rough distribution of Apple's supply chain. Image via ChinaFile

Apple has tapped Brown University Professor and Watson Institute director Professor Richard Locke to chair an all-volunteer group of professors. The group first convened six months ago, according to The Watson Institute for International Studies.

The group will be tasked with studying and making recommendations to Apple about current policies and practices, conducting and commissioning new research on Apple supply chain labor standards, and sharing existing research to improve supply chain labor standards. The members of the academic advisory board will themselves be responsible for doing the research that goes into their recommendations to apple. That research will be submitted to rigorous academic review, and it will result in publicly available working papers, as well as published journal articles.

In addition to Locke, the members of the board include Mark Cullen (Stanford University), Eli Friedman (Cornell University), Mary Gallagher (University of Michigan), Margaret Levi (University of Washington), Dara O'Rourke (University of California, Berkeley), Charles Sabel (Columbia University), and Annelee Saxenian (University of California, Berkeley).

Speaking on the appointment, Locke said that he hoped the advisory board's work would result in changes to Apple's supply chain so that its millions of workers "are paid living wages, work within the legal work hour regimes, [and] work in environments that are safe and where they can express their rights as citizens."

Scrutiny of Apple's supply chain has grown at a rate commensurate with the popularity of the products that supply chain generates. Apple has for years published extensive reports on its supply chain, rolling out a "Supplier Code of Conduct" that lays out expectations on labor and human rights, health and safety, the environment, ethics, and management systems.

This year, Apple terminated its relationship with Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics when an audit found that the supplier employed underaged workers. Apple's most recent Supplier Responsibility Report found that 99 percent of workers in its supply chain comply with a 60-hour work week limit. That figure was up slightly from the tally in September, which found 97 percent of workers at 60 or fewer hours per week.