News that Apple has signed up to the Fair Labor movement is highly significant. A risky move for a large company with many suppliers in parts of the world where labor conventions differ widely from those of humane western commentators, this exposes both Apple and its supplier network to public scrutiny. Apple must be confident that they can exercise enough sway over those suppliers, and especially the notorious Foxconn, to carry this off. At the same time, it significantly strengthens their hand in the process. Their entire supply chain just became an open book to the NGO community and the global press.
More fundamentally, this move aligns Apple with the trend into what I have terms Third Generation CSR – from philanthropy to what we have known as CSR into the world of Shared Value predicted and outlined by Michael Porter just a year ago. While at one level Fair Labor is simple CSR, the risk involved in this move suggests a far-sighted conviction that value in the future will lie much more substantially in the alignment of labor practices and product. I wonder whether Jobs would have made this move. It’s a huge risk. We shall all be watching . . . .