Wednesday, May 26, 2010

String of suicides by workers of Apple's supplier factory in China

A couple of months ago, technology giant Apple was praised for disclosing supply chain issues in a candid annual report. The report included violations such as child labour that Apple discovered during 2009 audits of supplier factories.

What Apple did not disclose was that workers of its biggest supplier in China have been killing themselves inside or outside the factories. Foxconn, a Taiwanese-owned electronics supplier in Shenzen, China, produces iPhone and iPad for Apple. Foxconn is also the world's largest contract manufacturer for electronics products and has been in news for a spate of suicides by workers.

The media reported the 10th suicide by a Foxconn worker last week. Human rights activists blame harsh working conditions in the factory that push workers to commit suicide. Two other workers have made unsuccessful attempts to commit suicide in recent months. Last year in July a worker had committed suicide after being interrogated by the factory management over a missing iPhone prototype.

Other customers of Foxconn include Intel, Dell, Zoostrom, HP among others.

Activists point out to stressful working conditions in Foxconn factories.

Foxconn has said it regrets the incidents of suicides by its workers. The company is taking unusual steps to stop the spate of worker suicides. A media report says that the Foxconn management is asking "workers to sign letters promising not to kill themselves and even agree to be institutionalised if they appeared to be in an "abnormal mental or physical state for the protection of myself and others"."

A New York Times has quoted Foxconn executives as saying that the "company is planning to hire psychiatrists, counselors and monks, and intends to bring in 2,000 singers, dancers and gym trainers to improve life on its two sprawling campuses in Shenzhen."

Foxconn is also building tall fences at its dormitories to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths.

Here is another report on the suicide incidents involving Fixconn workers.

Last month, a National Labor Committee report alleged sweatshop conditions in a Microsoft's supplier factory in China

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Palm oil giant under tax fraud probe

Media has reported that Wilmar International, the world's largest palm oil company, is facing a tax fraud probe by the Indonesian authorities. When the news of the probe broke pout, Wilmar's shares dropped 7%, one of the biggest one-day drop for the company.
It has been reported that the authorities are investigating a possible evasion of $393 million in taxes.
In a statement, Wilmar has denied of any wrongdoing.
In an interesting twist, a group of Indonesian lawmakers is asking to curb the powers of the tax office. They are saying that companies such as Wilmar should take legal action against the tax office if they are treated unfairly during the investigation.

In an unrelated report last week, San Francisco based campaigner CorpWatch, said accused ADM of complicity in forest destruction and child labour in palm oil operations. The report also mentioned ADM's linked with Wilmar pointing out that ADM has 16% stake in Wilmar.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Google discloses government requests for censorship, minus China

Brazil tops the list of countries for making highest number of requests to Google for removing content or seek information about users. Brazil made 291 requests between July and December last year.

Germany, India and United States are the other countries ranking high on the list. Surprised?

Unsurprisingly, Google does not disclose how many requests were made by China. Doing so would attract regulatory action for violating China's state secrecy laws! But we thought Google has said it would not succumb to China's repressive demands.

Here is the complete list.

Palm oil producers' profits up

Aggressive campaigns led by Greenpeace against palm oil industry's alleged unsustainable practices have not hurt the bottomline of top palm oil producers.

At least two major palm oil players listed on Singapore Stock Exchange have reported a jump in their profits. Golden Agri Resources said last week that its first quarter net profit surged 10-fold on year to $88.5 million.

The company said it expects demand for crude palm oil from the renewable energy sector to continue to grow in view of the increasing push by governments to expand renewable energy capacity.

Global Agri Resources operates a planted area of 427,000 hectares, as well as 34 palm oil processing mills, three refineries and six kernel crushing plants in Indonesia.

During the same week, Wilmar International, the world's largest palm oil producer, declared a better than expected 6% rise in first quarter profits. The first quarter earning of the company stood at $401 million, up from $380 million in the same period last year. The company's first quarter revenue however climbed 36% to $6.8 billion.

Early this year, Wilmar had reported a record profit of $1.88 bn for the year 2009, up 23% over the previous year. Pre-tax profit from plantations and palm oil mills grew 41% to $122.2 million.

Another top palm oil producer Sinar Mas which was recently suspended by Nestle following a Greenpeace campaign reported that its first quarter operating income more than doubled compared with the same period last year. The company operates 134,770 hectares of palm plantations in Indonesia.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Greenpeace takes the sustainable palm oil campaign back to the fields

After hugely embarrassing Nestle with a multi-media Kit-Kat and social media campaign, Greenpeace has taken the sustainable palm oil campaign back to the ground, literally.

Greenpeace organised a press conference in Singapore coinciding with the annual general meeting of Sinar Mass, one of the largest oil palm plantations companies and a key palm oil supplier for Nestle. It has been reported that Nestle has canceled its direct contact with Sinar Mas after being attacked by Greenpeace. Earlier, Unilever had stopped buying palm oil from Sinar Mas.

Greenpeace campaigners presented in the press conference what they call a fresh evidence of forest destruction in Indonesia by the palm oil industry. Greenpeace has also released a new report Sinar Mas-Rainforest and Peatland Destruction based on recent research on the ground.

The report says that a comparison of satellite images from 23 February 2010 and 19
November 2009, confirms that peatland and forest clearance continues in PT ALM concessions, owned by Sinar Mas. The report says that satellite images also show that approximately 2,300 hectares (of the 6,252 hectares identified as HCV in 2006)iv, has been cleared by PT ALM.

This is the second report on Sinar Mas in five months. Last December, Greenpeace had published Forest Clearance and RSPO Greenwash: Case Studies of Sinar Mas accusing the group of rainforest destruction.

An hour ago I received news that Spanish energy giant Abengoa has sacked Sinar Mas as palm oil supplier. Abengoa buys palm oil to be used as bio-fuel to produce energy.

Greenpeace has been campaigning to put pressure on the European Union to ban the use of palm oil as bio-fuel.

Cargill also under attack
Rainforest Action Network, published a report Cargill's Problems with Palm Oil last week which said the commodities giant Cargill was destroying rainforests in Indonesia to expand its palm plantations. Cargill has denied allegations.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

CSR Talk goes to INSEAD

Looking forward to making the next CSR Talk presentation at INSEAD Singapore tomorrow evening on "Corporate Responsibility for Competitive Advantage" to be attended by mainly Executive MBA students.

CSR Talk is a 30 minute power packed interactive session that is designed for those executives and leaders who want a quick, and really deep, insight into the strategic importance of corporate responsibility.

If you are interested in hosting this session, this is free for the time being, contact me for more information. Write on:

Updated on the 10th May 2010:
We had a fantastic session at INSEAD. The budgeted time for the entire session was only 30 minutes including the Q&A. But we ended up discussing well beyond 100 minutes! There was so much of interest from the participants and they had so many questions.

As I had expected, the quality of their questions was very high touching from the strategic aspects of CR to the spiritual side of CR and the future of capitalism and in between relating to hard realities on the ground.

Truly a fulfilling evening!