According to CEO Tim Cook, Apple is more than the world's most highly valued company – with a market capitalization of $477.8bn as of Monday afternoon – it's also a "force for good," contributing to a wide variety of social endeavors.
"We're also proud to be a force for good in the world beyond our products," said Cook during a conference call with analysts and reporters after announcing the company's financial results for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2013 on Monday.
"Whether it's improving working conditions or the environment," Cook said, "standing up for human rights, helping eliminate AIDS, or reinventing education, Apple is making substantial contributions to society."
Cook provided no details, but recent news on a number of fronts provide some of the reasoning behind his claims. Apple's recently approved $5.5bn "spaceship" headquarters scheduled for construction in Cupertino, for example, will have 70 per cent of its power provided on-site by photovoltaics and fuel cells, with the remaining power needs covered by "green sources" in California.
Apple is also partnering with Nevada's largest power company to build a solar farm to power its soon-to-be-built data center in Reno, Nevada. Its giant data center in Maiden, North Carolina, is now juiced by 100 per cent renewable sources.
Of course, there are plenty of other Apple facilities that are not nearly as environmentally correct – but one step at a time, folks, one step at a time. Apple announced earlier this year that the percentage of its corporate facilities powered by renewables had risen from 35 per cent in 2010 to 75 per cent in 2012.
The claim of helping to eliminate AIDS is quantifiable, as well. Last month at the Clinton Global Initiative conference, aging rocker Bono – cofounder of the (RED) intitiative along with Bobby Shriver "to get businesses and people involved in the fight against AIDS" – tweeted that Apple was "leading the crew" in the (RED) effort.
Apple design guru Sir Jonathan Paul "Jony" Ive is also helping (RED) in the run-up to its November 23 "Jony and Marc's (RED) Auction" at Sotherby's in New York City – Marc being designer Marc Newson – by co-designing a pair of 18K rose gold ear buds "with a custom display case" and a (RED) Mac Pro. Bidding is estimated to fetch $20,000 to $25,000 for the former and $40,000 to $60,000 for the latter.
As far as Apple's efforts to improve working conditions and the vast and vague concept of "standing up for human rights" goes, Cook & Co. have also made progress. Cynics might call these efforts mere PR and greenwashing, while more pragmatic observers adopt a "wait and see" attitude.
Apple's Supplier Code of Conduct [PDF] militates against excessive work hours, unsafe working conditions, and underage labor, and the company has employed independent inspectors and taken action against some suppliers.
However, it's no easy task to monitor the entire supply chain – meaning not only that it's no easy task for Apple, but also no easy task for those trying to keep an eye on how well Cupertino is keepings its promises.
Apple also provides educational opportunities "to workers throughout our supply chain" through its Supplier Employee Education and Development (SEED) program, and provides numbers to substantiate its claims, but this Reg reporter knows of no objective, third-party audit of those particular stats.
It's fashionable in some quarters to castigate Apple as The Great Satan, a mendacious beast responsible for everything from stoking mindless consumer mania, to enslaving suicidal Foxconn product-assemblers, to lying through its teeth about efforts to improve working conditions in its Asian assembly plants, to cynically stroking greenies with their environmental efforts.
It's also de rigueur among some starry-eyed Cupertino-worshipers to uncritically swallow every marketing missive issued from the flacks and execs inhabiting the warrens of One Infinite Loop.
May we recommend that both the most steadfast Apple-hater and most fervent fanboi might do well to drop their prejudices – con and pro – for a nanosecond, and examine Cook's "force for good" assertion objectively?
After a thorough, dispassionate, and honest review of what facts you can dig up, feel more than free to resume either your invigorating contempt or cuddly admiration. ®