The Global Compact’s second principle states “Businesses should make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses”. That means businesses should strive to ensure that they are not infringing on human rights by directly acting (or failing to act) in a manner that would result in such human rights abuses. Additionally, that they do not have knowledge of nor become involved in any acts or omissions that could assist in the abuse of human rights other parties; therefore, indirectly facilitating these abuses.
The Global Compact’s eighth principle states that “Businesses should undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility”. This basically means that businesses are solely responsible for all their activities and should ensure that these said activities do not impact harmfully on the environments in which they operate and those of their neighbors.
Apple, together with other companies in the consumer electronics industry, has several practices that are put in place in order to ensure compliance with these principles. In order for these practices to function properly, they have to be based on two key principles concerning the company’s actions and developments: full transparency and accountability and constant engagement with relevant publics affected.
Some of these practices include:
- Compliance with the highest internationally recognized standards for the protection of human rights and the environment.
- Allowing employees the freedoms of association and collective bargaining in order to negotiate on various issues involving them. Also, giving them a framework to air their grievances and settle disputes without fear or favor.
- Continuous education of the employees and management on human rights and labor laws. This ensures that nobody associated with the company is being mistreated.
- Commitment to the green and toxic-free movement by trying to reduce the carbon footprint of the company’s products and manufacturing process.
- Taking up newer design philosophies which ensure that once a product becomes obsolete, it can be brought back to the manufacturer and recycled.
The major setback associated with all these practices is the cost. Procuring and maintaining safety equipment in the factories could be a very costly affair. Switching to more direct and regular forms of employment is also a bit more expensive because one has to factor in issues of social security, and health insurance among others. Trade unions could be used to hold the company at ransom if their demands are not met. When situations of this kind get drawn out, major losses could be experienced by the company because of the amount of time it remains unproductive.
Green technologies are more expensive to buy and implement because of the fact they are new technologies and will need a workforce that is educated in their usage. Also, in order to implement greener methods of doing things, an organization might have to restructure its usual way of doing things and this usually costs money.
The end-product of doing all this is higher prices for commodities charged on the consumer. This could also have the net effect of slowing down sales due to less people being able to afford the products.
Taking up these practices also has positive effects. The effect on the environment is obvious – a cleaner environment results in a higher quality of life for the people living in and relying on that environment for their livelihood. Healthier, happier employees are more productive. This can only be good for the company’s bottom line as a more productive workforce usually results in more sales which translate into a larger profit-margin.
A more socially-conscious company continues to improve its ratings in the eyes of the public. This helps to improve the overall earnings of the company because the public are more inclined to deal with companies they feel are looking out for their best interests. The steps taken by Apple and other consumer electronics companies are noble and produce the desired results; however, we can do even more to improve. A couple of the steps that could be taken include:
- Stopping all forms of precarious employment (e.g. casual, temporary or agency work) and giving employees direct and regular employment. This would go a long way in improving the working conditions of the workers and ensuring that they get compensated fairly enough for the amount of work they are doing.
- Ensuring that all forms of forced labor, discrimination (based on gender, sex, race etc.), child labor and sexual impropriety become history by setting up the frameworks to deal with and/or completely eliminate them from the workplace. Some of these would include channels for reporting and dealing with sexual harassment claims; a competitive employment processes based on a person’s qualifications and suitability for the job; proper vetting and inspection of potential employees.
- Compliance with the internationally set standards for wage, working hours, security of tenure, working conditions and access to social services. This might involve employing more people in order to work better shifts and working closely with governments and other private institutions to put in place proper social services e.g. social security and health insurance.
- Periodic assessment of the company’s carbon footprint and all the measures being taken to improve it.
Implementation of all these measures would have both very good effects and implications for all the parties involved.
For the company itself, the challenge in implementing all these measures would be the cost. Businesses exist mostly to realize profit. Therefore, a willingness to improve is what is needed. Once this happens, it becomes an issue of tightening the belt to channel funds to these causes. There would also be numerous benefits. The benefit of having good public relations with one’s customers, employees, suppliers etc. can never be understated.
Some of these measures may result in the consumer paying more for a product as compared to before. With the world just coming out of a financial crisis and money being tight worldwide, this is not the best thing the end-consumer could have hoped for. However, the benefit in terms of a better quality of life due to a cleaner environment cannot be overlooked. As the saying goes, “health is wealth”.
Lastly, we also have to look at these steps in terms of the employees of an organization. They seem to benefit the most because they will enjoy better working conditions, better healthcare, better pay, and in general become happier individuals. The workforce has to show a willingness to repay the company by being the best employees they can be i.e. increasing output, and negotiating in a manner that is not detrimental to the company itself. This will in turn benefit everyone down the line.