Archive for the 'brands' Category

An open letter to the Apple Corporation on your stumble toward a Nike-level supply chain brand disaster in China

Dear Apple:

That I am writing this letter is as unexpected as it is important. I abandoned most of my activist rhetoric in college, deciding to stake a career on working to cultivate enlightened corporate self-interest as the quickest way to a sustainable world. I usually work with and for corporations to help them be green, responsible, and competitive. So don’t take this letter as an attack from an environmental purist. I’ve seen a lot of bad things, but nothing quite like your case.

I’m writing this letter as a warning about the trouble you’ve gotten yourself into.  Before my most recent trip to China, before I was shown the evidence soon to be released, I had assumed that you had your China supply chain under control, that the social unrest at the Foxconn factories would have woken you up to the importance of implementing strict social and environmental principles in factories that manufacture your magical products. I thought your passive attitude toward the sourcing of conflict minerals in your electronic circuitry was really just a cover while you flat-out hard pressed for an internal scramble to work with industry initiatives, government regulators, and suppliers to prevent guilt by association.

Instead, the evidence presented to me in Beijing last week of your mismanagement in China is shocking. The horrible pictures have not been released yet, or at least have not been tagged to you. I assume you know what I am talking about. Yet maybe I cannot assume this. You seem to have no idea of the storm your brand is about to get swept up in.

What is going on? What are you thinking? Do you simply not know? Did your subordinates fail to raise this huge risk to your attention? Do you assume that Chinese civil society is too weak to expose you, or that people are not going to care about hard-to-pronounce factory towns? Are you expecting to just hide this information?

You have time to make amends before your brand takes a beating the likes of which no company since Nike has so unconsciously brought upon itself. How you respond to the truth is going to sway a lot of your faithful, your bottom line, and your brand.

Here’s what you should do:

1)      Take responsibility. Publicly. Now. Declare that you’re going to stop the pollution in your supplier factories. Then do whatever it takes to fulfill your promises.

2)      Make your principles match your image. Make your manufacturing base as slick as your latest miracle products, your supplier factories’ discharge as clean as your website and stores.

3)      Increase transparency. Open up your supply chain to NGOs, the media, and regulators. They’re not going to steal or sell your trade secrets. They’ll even help you regain public trust by being your eyes and ears to prevent future horrors. Make deals with these groups so they’ll go to you to find solutions before they go to the media.

4)      Be a leader and transform the sector. Use third party verified standards or codes of conduct that will prove you’re doing a better job than your competitors so they need to follow your sustainability leadership. Donate money to NGOs so they can monitor your competitors too. Are you really so behind the times that you let PC manufacturers outshine you? That’s not cool. Not cool at all.

5)      Measure results and communicate: Show progress in a measured way. Leading chemical companies manage their supply chain pollution better than you and show year-on-year improvements. You’ve gotten off easy because people do not easily associate your products with poisoning the earth, but that is changing.

6)      Label your products as environmentally friendly. Use standards like EPEAT that measure a basket of social and environmental indicators and present that information at the point of sale with labels ranging from gold to silver to bronze. If you don’t take responsibility for this, others are going to force you into a corner.

7)      Apologize. Nobody’s perfect, even a California tech god like yourselves.

8)      Act quickly. One rotten apple…well, we really don’t want that to happen.

I hope this exercise hasn’t been too painful. I don’t mean to be harsh and I’ve tried to be constructive. The terms are really very simple. Be the kind of change your customers want you to be or they soon won’t be your customers, no matter how great the products.

The facts to speak for themselves. And believe me, these facts don’t speak in soft tones with automatic volume limiting technology. These facts scream sour.

Your stockholders and customers should be the most concerned. And nobody’s going to have to write a letter to them. If you don’t make cider of your falling fruit, your faithful just might start lobbing a few things your way.

Respectfully yours,

Joshua Wickerham