Yesterday, many media outlets, including NewsDaily and Yahoo, reported that an employee of an Apple supplier in China (Foxconn) committed suicide over a missing iPhone.

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According to these reports, the employee, Sun Danyong, was responsible for shipping prototypes of iPhones from Foxconn to Apple. Sun “became frantic after discovering that one of 16 prototypes of Apple’s fourth-generation N90 iPhone had gone missing.” Reportedly, Foxconn security guards searched his apartment, detained him and beat him.

While the Yahoo article includes a denial of a beating by Foxconn’s security chief, he did say “I was a little angry and I pulled his right shoulder once to get him to tell me what happened.” The next day, Sun jumped to his death from his 12th floor apartment.

Some media outlets have begun to cast blame on Apple, calling its culture “highly secretive” and “intensely guarded.” Apple has stepped forward to combat this negative PR with a statement saying “We require our suppliers to treat all workers with dignity and respect.”

I will come to Apple’s defense on this. Apple has been one of the leaders in having a supplier code of conduct. I even referenced Apple as a benchmark in my 2006 article “Trend Alert: The Supplier Code of Conduct.” You can read Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct at http://images.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/pdf/Supplier_Code_of_Conduct_V3_1.pdf.

In sum, while Apple does have responsibility for selecting its suppliers, they can’t be held responsible for a beating that they did not authorize or condone nor a suicide that resulted from it. However, it will be interesting to see if this incident will compel Apple to change suppliers for PR reasons. Certainly, if something like this happened a second time with the same supplier, Apple would have no choice but to switch suppliers or risk significant damage to its revered brand.

Regardless of the outcome, this is a landmark event for the importance of supplier codes of conduct. Certainly absent a supplier code of conduct, Apple would be in a far worse PR, and possibly legal, position.

Do you have a supplier code of conduct implemented yet?

As you can see, a supplier code of conduct can have strategic importance at a time that you least expect.

To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM
President & Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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