'Suicides at Apple supply plants a lesson for companies'

Apple is under pressure after reports of suicides and health hazards to workers at its supply plants in China. Suicides by workers at Foxconn Technologies, one of Apple's biggest suppliers in China, have rattled the biggest technology brand in the world.

Last month, the New York Times reported that over 130 workers at an Apple  supply factory in Suzhou suffered severe health problems after poisoning by a chemical called n-hexane.

In its study, the Network for Business Sustainability, an independent research group based at the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario near here, says that ensuring safe working conditions should be the top responsibility of companies that buy from suppliers in other countries.

Though these companies talk about their commitment to safe working conditions in their supply chains, they are going about it the wrong way.

"Many companies today talk about developing 'sustainable' supply chains, but they're actually talking about managing risk and preventing public relations crises,''  says study co-author Stephen Brammer of the Warwick Business School (Britain).

"Those companies end up implementing costly and ineffective punitive actions against suppliers after labour issues or supply disruptions have already occurred.
"In the end, nobody wins."

Leading companies are just treating their supply chains "as opportunities for competitive advantage", says the study.

"If supplier employees are experiencing high levels of injury, your company should send staff to do on-site training. If some suppliers are less productive than others, don't just drop them. Hold supplier conferences where the laggards can learn from the leaders and everyone can share best practices.'' says Brammer.

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