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Bad Apple? What is missing from Apple’s Corporate Responsibility Reporting?

Peter Truesdale, OBE

I have been thinking about Apple’s Corporate Responsibility Reporting.  I used to think good Apple.  Increasingly I think bad Apple.  Here’s why.

Corporate Responsibility Reporting. Go on to Apple Inc.’s website and it is all there.

Accessibility. Check.

Environment. Check.

Inclusion and diversity. Check.

Privacy. Check.

Supplier responsibility. Check.

And as you can see when you click on the link each comes with ample detail.  So it really is all there.

Or is it?

I have been reading corporate responsibility/sustainability reports since the late 1990s. (Not continuously, I hasten to add, but as part of a broader portfolio of activities!)

I don’t think it really is all there.

The reporting lacks two key qualities: coherence and balance.

It addresses the inputs Apple makes.  It talks about the outputs stemming from its actions.  It leaves the overall impact of Apple’s activities unaddressed.

The five topics are grouped together under the heading ‘Apple values’.  The site user clicks in vain on those two words.  No definitive explanation is given of what Apple values are.  No explanation is offered for values’ relation to the five headings.  No attempt is made to explain how what appears in each sub-section coheres into a perfect whole.

As no overarching architecture is vouchsafed, it is hard to tell what the relevant importance is of each and how they relate to each other.

Sustainability reporting gives us insight into what the corporation’s idea of ethical business behaviour is.  Again this is missing from Apple’s account.

No Corporation is without its critics.  No Corporation can avoid disagreement and controversy about its behaviour.  In these respects, corporations are like individuals.

Apple’s tax practices have been widely criticised.  Whether rightly or wrongly is neither here nor there.  Surely the controversy has been sufficient to warrant Apple putting its own side of the story and showing how its actions match its commitments?  The press release of November 2017 does not do this adequately. I will return to this on another occasion.

The best corporate reporting addresses not just what the corporation is doing but the impact that its actions are having.  Note that I say the best because not all corporations manage it.

Yet Apple is a part of an industry that is fundamentally changing the way we live our lives and what we can do.  Surely of all companies Apple ought to be displaying thoughtfulness about its impacts.

The individual sets of communication are fine.  The whole though is less than the sum of the parts.

My prescription?

Apple should up its game. It should issue a single narrative that states its values, illustrates how it lives them out, sets out what it has learned from controversies and prove that it is thinking about its impacts.  Doing so really would pay dividends.

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