In a radio interview on the syndicated show Conversations on Health Care, Apple COO Jeff Williams said that the reason Apple has come under attack for the use of child labor in its supply chain is that the company actively goes out looking for it. Other companies, he said, simply keep their heads down.

No company wants to talk about child labor. They don’t want to be associated with that. We shine a light on it. We go out and search for cases where an underage worker is found in a factory somewhere and then we take drastic actions with the supplier and the labor groups to try and make a change.

Then we report it publicly every year. We take a lot of heat for that. But we think the only way to make change is to go hit it head-on and talk about it.

Apple has come under fire over the years when underage workers were found in the company’s supply chain, and Williams has spoken before about Apple’s unusual stance on these issues …

Back in 2014, when a Panorama documentary found that child labor was used in Indonesian tin mines, whose output feeds into the Apple supply chain, Williams said that it was more moral to work for change than simply to walk away.

Apple has two choices: We could make sure all of our suppliers buy tin from smelters outside of Indonesia, which would probably be the easiest thing for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism. But it would be the lazy and cowardly path, because it would do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers or the environment since Apple consumes a tiny fraction of the tin mined there. We chose the second path, which is to stay engaged and try to drive a collective solution.

Apple noted in its annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report that it tries to work with suppliers to ensure compliance with the company’s standards, and drops those which refuse to cooperate. Business Insider noted that Apple’s most recent report involved carrying out a total of 633 audits covering 1.6 million workers, with 16 cases of child labor detected.

Williams said that making a positive difference in the world was what most motivated his team, and he pointed to the power of HealthKit and ResearchKit to make a huge difference to healthcare in developing countries.

That’s one of the things that most interests us here at Apple. We’re big believers in the democratization potential of this. The injustice of fantastic healthcare available in some parts of the world, and others suffering needlessly.

He gave the example of autism, which often goes undiagnosed until it is too late. He said that very early diagnosis allows interventions that affect the development of the brain, and that there are apps that can facilitate this.

In Africa, there are 55 people in all of Africa that are trained specialists in autism […] for a population of over a billion. […] Having an impact in people’s lives in terms of IQ and social skills by intervening early in autism, that’s the kind of thing that makes us get up in the morning.

Photo: Reuters

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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