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Apple supplier report details safety changes due to COVID-19

The change are designed "to ensure people are able to return to work safely," Apple says.

Coronavirus phone
Apple details its efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus in its supply chain.
James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

Apple's annual audit of its supplier chain highlights the company's plans to increase safety and protection for workers in its global supply chain in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Apple's 14th annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, released on Thursday, includes a letter from Sabih Khan, Apple's senior vice president of operations, says the company has implemented health screenings, limited density and enforces strict adherence to social distancing "to ensure people are able to return to work safely -- because everyone has the right to a safe and healthy workplace."

"This pandemic has left no country untouched, and we want to thank all our suppliers around the world for their commitment, flexibility and care for their teams as we navigate COVID-19's complex and rapidly evolving impacts," Khan said. "From the outset, we worked with our suppliers to develop and execute a plan that puts the health of people first."

In February the company warned that COVID-19's spread in China would hurt its flagship iPhone business, limiting both supply and sales of the devices. But it's also helped health workers and others through the crisis, donating millions of dollars, more than 30 million masks and 7.5 million face shields to help combat the coronavirus.

Some of the changes Apple made to its supply chain workforce include requiring personal protective equipment to be worn during work and in all common areas, and masks and sanitizers have been distributed to workers. Deep cleaning protocols have also been implemented, Khan said.

Khan said the company it's also sharing what it's learned in the process with others in the industry as companies develop their own best practices for protecting employee health during the pandemic.

"While COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge, we've also drawn hope and inspiration from humanity's renewed focus on the health of our colleagues, friends and neighbors," Khan said.

The audit was based on interviews with more than 52,000 supplier employees in 49 countries in 2019, up from 30 countries the previous year.

Apple said the number of sites participating in its Zero Waste Program, introduced in 2015 to reduce waste in the manufacturing process, increased 53%, diverting more than 322,000 metric tons of waste head for landfills. Suppliers conserved more than 30 billion gallons of freshwater in 2019, leading to a 40% rate of waste water reuse.  

More than 154,700 supplier employees participated in the Supplier Employee Education and Development, which provides access to educational opportunities through higher education and online coursework. Some 4 million workers have taken advantage of the program since 2008.