Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Apple says social report would be waste of effort

February 2009

The personal computer manufacturer Apple is heading for confrontation with shareholder activists over its refusal to produce a sustainability report.

A resolution at the California-based company’s forthcoming annual meeting calls for a sustainability report to be published regularly. However, Apple’s board, which includes the former US vice-president and environmental campaigner Al Gore, has said a non-financial report would be an unnecessary expense, would ‘produce little added value’ and, in printed form, would have a negative environmental impact.

The resolution for the 25 February meeting has been submitted by a group of US shareholders that includes the New York City Office of the Comptroller and the Green Century Equity Fund. They say Apple cannot afford to fall behind competitors such as Dell, HP and IBM, which all report annually on their social and environmental performance.

They maintain an Apple report can be prepared at ‘reasonable cost’ and should be published by July 2009, using the Global Reporting Initiative’s sustainability reporting guidelines. Main topics should be climate change, the use of potentially toxic substances in products, recycling efforts, and employee and product safety.

In a document opposing the resolution, Apple says it already has relevant data on its website, including pages on supplier responsibility and the environment, and that much of that information has been compiled with reference to the GRI guidelines. It does not believe that ‘expanding into additional areas of disclosure to prepare a sustainability report is in the best interests of shareholders’.

In the past, Apple has been targeted by environmental groups over what has been seen as slow CSR progress. However, since 2007, when chief executive Steve Jobs announced a ‘Greener Apple’ policy that has led, among other things, to the phasing-out of PVCs in products and the introduction of a more energy-efficient laptop, the company has been praised for its efforts by various groups, including Greenpeace.

However, in last year’s annual Greenpeace ethical rating of the 18 top global manufacturers of personal computers, mobile phones, televisions and games consoles, Apple still came 14th.

In the US, resolutions on sustainability reporting are relatively common at annual meetings, and have often led targeted companies – such as Wal-Mart – to adopt some form of reporting, or at least to produce a timetable for action on the issue.

Apple’s stance against the resolution is unusually robust, and will leave it as one of a diminishing number of large US companies holding out against sustainability reporting. A KPMG analysis published late last year showed that 78 of the largest 100 firms by revenue in the US now produce a non-financial report.

Apple | North America | Sustainability Reporting

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