Apple has agreed to review its labor practices in the US after regulators and employees accused the company of union busting. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of its annual shareholders meeting, Apple said it would carry out an assessment of its "efforts to comply with its Human Rights Policy as it relates to workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights in the United States by the end of calendar year 2023."
The company will bring in a third-party firm to conduct the audit, according to The New York Times. A group of investors, including five New York City public worker pension funds, that controls around $7 billion worth of Apple stock called for the assessment in a September shareholder proposal. New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who started talks with Apple on behalf of the city pension funds, told the Times that Apple agreed to the audit if the investors withdrew the proposal.
“Workers organizing at Apple for a collective voice in their workplace have reported strong pushback from the company — that flies in the face of Apple’s stated human rights commitment to workers’ freedom of association,” Lander said in a statement. “I’m grateful to Apple’s board of directors for listening to the concerns of shareholders regarding worker rights and hope the company will heed the findings of the third-party assessment and take concrete steps to adopt a genuine commitment to non-interference that respects the rights of its workers."
In a letter to Apple chairman Arthur Levinson, the investor group urged Apple to hire a firm with expertise in labor (and that has not advised clients on how to prevent workforces from unionizing) to carry out the review. The investors also brought Microsoft's neutral stance on labor organizing to Levinson's attention and urged Apple to include its global supply chain and non-US operations as part of the audit.
"Apple has made commitments to worker rights globally as well as in its supply chain, and while much of the current organizing activity has occurred in the US, there are Apple worker organizing efforts occurring around the world, including in Australia and the UK," they wrote. "Addressing these topics at a global level can add credibility to the assessment and address other potential areas of concern proactively and efficiently."
News of the assessment comes amid talks between Apple and unionized workers at a store in Towson, Maryland over their first union contract. Workers in at least a half-dozen stores have accused Apple of violating labor laws, claiming that the company has clamped down on attempts to organize. The Communications Workers of America, which represents a collective of Apple Store workers in Oklahoma City, said in a National Labor Relations Board filing that the company set up an illegal union controlled by management at a store in Columbus, Ohio to thwart support for an independent employee union.
"While a credible, independent assessment by individuals or organizations with the appropriate expertise on workers' freedom of association could uncover important information about Apple's response to worker organizing, including its use of union busting consultants, workers need concrete solutions now. Apple must commit to a true policy of neutrality toward union organizing efforts," the Communications Workers of America told Engadget in a statement. "Apple's workers deserve respect and a voice on the job, not just another self-congratulatory exercise in corporate image management. We support investor advocates’ efforts to ensure this is a credible audit."