Apple SVP Operations Jeff Williams on BBC's Anti-Apple Documentary

One of my stories in today's AAPL Orchard email was the BBC going undercover into Pegatron, one of Apple's iPhone assemblers. This morning after publication, Apple's head of operations, Jeff Williams, wrote a memo to Apple's UK team addressing BBC's "Apple's Broken Promises" documentary. BBC sent three reporters undercover to work in a Pegatron iPhone factory. I was able to watch the documentary last night. I would recommend watching the video as I thought the first 30 minutes were relatively fair from a journalistic standpoint, including observations and recordings from inside Pegatron. I thought the documentary started to lose credibility in the second half when the discussion turned to the very bottom of Apple's supply chain, focused on tin mining. I wasn't alone as Apple's Williams dedicated a good portion of his memo to that part of the documentary.

Apple SVP Operations Jeff Williams:  

Panorama showed some of the shocking conditions around tin mining in Indonesia. Apple has publicly stated that tin from Indonesia ends up in our products, and some of that tin likely comes from illegal mines. Here are the facts:

Tens of thousands of artisanal miners are selling tin through many middlemen to the smelters who supply to component suppliers who sell to the world. The government is not addressing the issue, and there is widespread corruption in the undeveloped supply chain. Our team visited the same parts of Indonesia visited by the BBC, and of course we are appalled by what’s going on there.

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.

We spearheaded the creation of an Indonesian Tin Working Group with other technology companies. Apple is pushing to find and implement a system that holds smelters accountable so we can influence artisanal mining in Indonesia. It could be an approach such as “bagging and tagging” legally mined material, which has been successful over time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are looking to drive similar results in Indonesia, which is the right thing to do.

I thought the entire memo, but in particular that particular section, was well-written. It was tough watching children work in tin mines, but I knew that the BBC positioning these awful situations as being somehow approved by Apple was unfair and not trying to actually help these people. Williams did a good job at clearly explaining what Apple has been doing to address the situation, instead of simply telling its suppliers not to buy tin from those mines. The weird part about the BBC documentary was that the undercover reporters did notice a few protocols not being met inside Pegatron, which I assumed have already been addressed, but BBC went further and started to frame Apple as simply not caring about what was going on in its supply chain, or insinuating the more disingenuous claim that Apple approved of shortcuts or cheats meant to meet certain safety benchmarks or ratios. I thought the BBC reporter had an interesting story idea and took some risk to get the unique footage, but I suspect the conclusions were stretched too far in order to find a juicy story.