What do Apple and BP have in common? Both are taking hits for something that's happened in their supply chain - BP for the gulf oil spill disaster, Apple for a series of suicides at a key supplier.
The responsibility in BP's case is pretty straightforward. The company selected the location of the drilling, appointed the contractors and signed the cheque. They should be offering the world a big mea culpa, but instead they appear to be trying to play down the seriousness of the spill when there are allegations that despite the technical difficulty of drilling at those water depths, a cheaper drill casing was used and safety warnings were ignored. This is the antithesis of corporate responsibility. Responsibility means that you do your utmost to do things right, and, if and when they go wrong, you hold your hands up.
In Apple's case, it really is a case of tall poppy syndrome. Many other big electronics names including Sony, Dell and Motorola use Foxconn - the biggest contract electronics manufacturer in the word - but they're not Apple and they haven't launched the world's most desirable electronic gizmo in recent weeks. So Apple gets it in the neck while the others keep their heads down. In truth, the responsibility to improve working conditions at Foxconn lies with all these manufacturers and their combined buying power should be sufficient to make whatever demands they please.
Apple have been hit by this before - when Greenpeace attacked them for their general environmental performance, so they should know what's coming. The same thing goes for other big brands - Nike, Coca Cola et al - if you stand out above the crowd, then the media, NGOs and public will hold you responsible for the sins of the multitude. The only sensible response is to use attacks and potential attacks as a spur and redouble efforts to clean up your supply chains, eradicating social and environmental issues before they hit the headlines. The kind of complacency that we have seen in BP will be fatal for any business trying to be green.