Consumers and investors are becoming increasingly ethical when it comes to the choices they make: they seek authenticity and corporate social responsibility. Apple’s values-driven approach resonates amid this growing awareness, and it’s reflected in the company’s own fundraising and volunteer efforts.
Ethics as a business opportunity?
Enterprises are becoming increasingly aware of the evolution of the ethical consumer. This evolution is driving growing recognition among the investment community, prompting forward-thinking firms to put values at the center of their business.
These switched-on businesses understand that while the drive to transparency and ethical business practices can be seen as a constraint in the short term, the long-term value of making such changes is to build stronger relationships with employees, customers, and partners. And they can reveal and empower new business opportunities.
A recent U.S. survey showed that 70% of employees are more likely to work at, or stay with, a company that has a strong environmental agenda. One of the best ways to judge a company’s ethics is through the behavior of its employees — though it also helps to consider the state of the boardroom, given so many major tech corporations, including Apple, remain white, middle-aged and male.
Authenticity is everything
There’s also a need to look through company statements concerning the issues that matter, to look deeper to what’s actually being accomplished. At Apple, it looks as if environmental concerns, employee/supplier responsibility, accessibility and privacy are among the main pillars of the company’s approach to ethical business.
Judged by results, it’s notable that it seems to have won praise from the likes of the United Nations, Greenpeace, and disability and privacy advocates. This kind of praise resonates with customers, who tend to be discerning enough to understand the difference between a press release and actual action.
This has been of particular consequence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hall & Partners CEO Vanella Jackson, warns that brands need to make a deep commitment to positive behavior to win consumer trust:
“Brands can’t briefly demonstrate such positive behaviour and then assume consumers will view them positively,” she writes, pointing out that 72% of U.S. consumers are unimpressed with how much support big brands have shown communities during the crisis.
“Technology brands in a pandemic have become a significant and essential service in small and profound ways. Which brands rise to that challenge and position their brands for the moment will garner the greatest long-term rewards,” said Mario Natarelli, managing partner, MBLM.
Apple’s employees are digging deep
An Apple statement (I’ll leave it to my discerning readers to make their own judgments as to authenticity) explains some of the work the company and its employees are engaged in through its Giving Program.
Launched in 2011, this is a multi-million-dollar scheme that combines Apple’s fund alongside volunteer efforts and donations from across its workforce to support local communities. Under the program, Apple matches each dollar raised by its workers. Apple employees have raised around $600 million and donated 1.6 million volunteer hours (perhaps reflecting the scale of our current crisis, that’s up $235 million since 2019) in donations since it began.
The money is being invested in a wide range of projects, including food banks, health and social services, and more. In the UK, Apple employees have volunteered in food banks and homeless shelters, for example. In Detroit, two Apple employees used their own time to make 14,000 masks for hospitals, convalescent homes and front-line workers, sewn together out of bow ties and old parade costumes.
The company and its employees have contributed to more than 34,000 organizations worldwide, including Feeding America, FIRST, Malala Fund, Simplon, Red Cross, schools, and scores of food banks across the world. Apple has donated masks to hospitals and agencies all over the world and $5 million in cash.
Apple is digging deep, too
When the crisis hit, “Our first order of business … was making sure we did everything we could to keep our employees, customers and communities safe,” Apple Vice President for European Operations Cathy Kearney said.
“This quarter and throughout the year, our response to this crisis has been to ask, how can we help? In terms of COVID-19 response, that has meant sourcing and donating millions of face masks, designing and manufacturing millions of face shields and scaling the production of millions of test kits,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in October.
As its work with Product RED shows, these aren’t the only efforts the company has made to show some corporate responsibility during the crisis; at one point, it felt like every division in the company looked at what it could contribute, responding with everything from Apple-designed masks for medics to a handwashing app for iPhones, to work with Google on the potentially life-saving (and private) COVID contact-tracing app.
So, is Apple simply shrouding itself in values in a cynical attempt to progress its brand? While I’m certain there are some critics who make such claims, I tend to believe the company is growing to meet the needs of its times.
I believed Cook when he wrote recently, “With every breath we take, we must commit to being that change, and to creating a better, more just world for everyone.”
For me, Apple’s journey since the failing firm began to fight back with iMac in th 1990s to become the multi-trillion dollar, socially responsible firm it is today is remarkable. And it looks like today’s ethical consumers respond to that.