APPLE

Rated for year 2021: Vegan non-compliant

Score: -1

Industry: Technology Hardware, Storage & Peripherals

CONTROVERSIES:

In 2020, Apple was hit with several lawsuits in the US and Europe for planned-obsolescence – a practice where phones are intentionally constructed to stop functioning after a while, so consumers buy newer models. This contributes to the tech-waste problem and has severe environmental implications.

ANALYSIS:

Animal direct issues

Apple’s main business activities (electronics, cloud services, digital content) have no direct harm for animals. However, a small proportion of the product portfolio is made up of leather accessories (phone cases, apple watch wristbands), where Apple even collaborates with Hermès – a non-vegan brand known for its heavy use of animal skins.

Apple “Wearables, Home and Accessories” division accounts for 10% of the revenue in relative value but represents $ 30,620 million in absolute value (p. 42 of 2020 10K annual report). Considering that simple Apple leather accessories are sold between $59 for leather cases and $489 for an Apple watch leather bracelet made in partnership with Hermès, we suspect that leather accessories generated revenue of more than 1 $ million per year which is significant in terms of negative impact for animals. We have reached out to Apple to confirm these values. 

Additionally, Apple offers advertising services on their Appstore. The content-policy includes a number of forbidden themes including discrimination, adult content, controlled substances, tobacco, deceptive messaging etc. However, animal welfare is not mentioned in any way, allowing non-vegan companies to advertise their apps.

Environmental issues

For its electronic products Apple requires raw materials that are mined (eg. rare earth materials, copper, gold, cobalt etc.). Mining has severe environmental consequences such as loss of biodiversity, deforestation, erosion and the contamination of soil and water.

To address this issue, some components of newer Apple products were made with recycled raw materials (eg. rare earth elements in Taptic engine of Iphone 11 and in magnets of Airpods Pro). Apple is also working on creating a “circular supply chain” for rare earth material, where old phones are disassembled and recycled. To succeed, they have developed innovative disassembly robots and are lobbying for regulations that would allow them to move used phones and recovered materials, which is not currently possible under waste shipment regulations. While this would be progress, no concrete date has been set and it is unclear how long the implementation would take. 

Final rating

According to VF scoring methodology and thresholds, the company cannot be rated compliant nor neutral or in transition (significant leather revenue, more than 1 million USD per year). Apple is rated non-compliant with a score of “-1” mainly because one of

its business implies significant animal exploitation even though exploiting animals is not its core business (otherwise the company would have been evaluated “Non-vegan” with a -2 score).

BENEFICIAL ASPECTS: Some use of recycled materials and first steps towards circular supply chain for rare earth elements.

HARMFUL ASPECTS: Sells leather accessories. Advertising policy disregards animal welfare. Relies on mining for Rare Earth Materials, which destroys habitats and has severe environmental impacts. Often accused of planned obsolescence.

SOURCES:

Brusselstime (obsolescence issue)

Forbes (2020 Batterygate)

Apple leather accessories (Apple webshop)

Business Insider (Apple & Hermès partnership)

Hermès VF rating

Apple content policy (animal-welfare not mentioned)

2020 Apple Annual report (see “Wearables, Home and Accessories”)

2020 Apple Environmental Report