At some point in late May or early June, Apple quietly updated their supplier responsibility page with a new supplier list for fiscal year 2020. They never did release a list for FY2019; other outlets claimed without citation that the omission was “due to the pandemic,” but my emails and phone calls to Apple’s press department went unanswered. Regardless, I was curious and somewhat surprised to see new data from Apple, as I spent quite a bit of time on their 2013-2018 lists and have the sense that there’s at least some societal value in understanding how and where their products come to be.
Of course, every time I encounter Apple’s transparency reports I’m disappointed. Their production values are impeccable, but - like all of Apple’s marketing materials - they seem to exist within a vacuum, unable or unwilling to contextualize themselves within society, or broader material supply chains, or the actual physical locations from which cell phones emerge.
Anyway: There is much to say about the design of Apple’s new supplier list, and about the information contained within it. But today, allow me to answer perhaps the most obvious question about the suppliers that Apple disclosed: How does the FY2020 list differ from the ones that Apple released previously?
The new suppliers
Apple shared the names of 200 suppliers in its FY2020 report. 25 of these have never before appeared in Apple’s supplier lists:
- Alpha and Omega Semiconductor Limited - Headquartered in Sunnyvale CA, A&O makes a broad range of semiconductors including (according to DigiKey) “a wide portfolio of Power MOSFET and Power IC products.”
- Concraft Holding Company Limited - A Taiwanese company which makes tooling and finished products including connectors, acoustic, and optical components.
- Fujian Nanping Aluminium Company Limited - An aluminum manufacturer who (per their website) specializes in… windows, doors, and curtain walls.
- Future Hi Tech Company Limited - A Shanghai based supplier of metal injection molded, ceramic injection molded, and bulk metal glass components.
- General Interface Solution Limited - A Chinese touch display manufacturer.
- Global Lighting Technologies - A Taiwanese company specializing in light guides
- IDEMIA Group - “the global leader in Augmented Identity” 🤷
- Jiangsu Gian Technology Company Limited - A metal injection molding supplier
- Lingyi iTech (Guangdong) Company - A Shenzhen-based manufacturer of die cut, stamped, and CNC machined parts.
- LOTES Company Limited - A Taiwanese manufacturer of specialized electronic connectors.
- Nanofilm Technologies International Private Limited - A spinoff of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, Nanofilm develops specialty coatings, “nanoscale products,” and industrial equipment for “large volume” coating processes.
- Nexperia B.V. - A Dutch supplier of various semiconductor products.
- Plansee Group - A Chinese manufacturer of refractory metals and alloys.
- Selen Science & Technology Company Limited - “...has created three major industrial directions of advanced materials, clean engineering and ultra-clean products, and intelligent manufacturing of material derivatives.”
- SFS Group AG - A Swiss supplier of “mechanical fastening systems, assemblies, precision moulded parts and logistics solutions.”
- Shenzhen Deren Electronic Company Limited - A Chinese manufacturer of connectors, optical components, and flexible cables.
- Shenzhen Everwin Precision Technology Company Limited - A Chinese manufacturer with a variety of capabilities within consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and, although it’s against my own editorial standards to ever utter the term, “Industry 4.0” solutions 🤦.
- Suzhou Victory Precision Manufacture Company Limited - A Chinese manufacturer of consumer electronics components.
- Suzhou Xinjieshun Hardware Machine Electricity Company Limited - This company is basically not in Google at all. It might also be known as “Suzhou Jieshun Hardware,” a company with barely two pages of Google results. One of those is an SEC filing that Jabil (itself a longtime and prominent Apple supplier) made when Bill Peters stepped down as President in 2018; in the filing, Peters was barred from working at Suzhou Jieshun Hardware for a year. Anyway, Suzhou Jieshun appears to be a metal fabricator, and besides that I don’t have any guesses as to what Suzhou Xinjieshun does.
- Tianma Micro-Electronics (Hong Kong) Limited - A Shenzhen-based display manufacturer.
- Trio Metal Company Limited - A Chinese manufacturer of specially shaped wire rods.
- United Test and Assembly Center Limited - A Singaporean supplier of semiconductor assembly services & test solutions, including ones that are aimed at raw semiconductor wafers; they also offer a range of processor analysis services.
- VARTA Microbattery GmbH - A German supplier of small lithium-ion batteries.
- Viavi Solutions Incorporated - An Arizona-based company selling wireless, wired, and fiber network test equipment.
- GigaDevice Semiconductor Incorporated - A Beijing-based company (which was founded “in Silicon Valley in 2005”) that makes flash memory, microcontrollers, and sensors.
The missing 2018 suppliers
Meanwhile, 29 companies were on Apple’s FY2018 supplier list and are *not* on the 2021 list (either directly or through a new parent company, as a few of Apple’s 2018 suppliers have since been acquired). The links below point to Dong Xi, the database I built around Apple’s pre-2021 supplier lists; click on them and you can see every location that Apple disclosed for the company in question.
- Artesyn Embedded Technologies Incorporated
- Brady Corporation
- Cathay Tat Ming Precision Metal Products Company Limited
- CCL Design (Suzhou) Company Limited
- Cheng Loong Corporation
- Coilcraft Incorporated
- Crealand Technology Limited
- Darfon Electronics Corporation
- ECCO Leather B.V.
- Fuyang Technology Corporation
- Guangdong Ellington Electronics Technology Company Limited
- Ibiden Company Limited
- Interflex Company Limited
- Intramedia Incorporated
- Jilin Liyuan Precision Manufacturing Company Limited
- KEMET Corporation
- Laird PLC
- LY Investment (HK) Limited
- Merry Electronics Company Limited
- Salcomp Plc
- Seiko Advance Limited
- Sekisui Chemical Company Limited
- SMK Corporation
- Swiftronic Holding Pte. Limited
- The Chemours Company
- TTM Technologies Incorporated
- Zeniya Aluminum Engineering Limited
- OmniVision Technologies Incorporated
- SiTime Corporation
Now, we should be clear about what these additions and omissions mean. Apple releases the names of the suppliers that make up 98% of their “direct spend for materials, manufacturing, and assembly.” But they don’t tell us how much they spend with any of these companies, either as a raw dollar value or as a percentage of the total - and that makes it really difficult to assess the changes we see from year to year.
Take, for example, leather supplier ECCO. They popped onto the top 200 list in FY2014 with two locations, then disappeared until FY2018, and now they’re gone again. Did Apple cease buying from them in 2015-2017 - a period in which they continued to sell leather accessories? Or is Apple’s spend with ECCO right on the cusp of what it takes to make the top 200 list?
On the other hand, consider The Chemours Company - a spinoff from DuPont which makes specialty fluoroelastomers and owns the trademark to Viton. They first showed up on Apple’s lists with 9 reported supplier locations in FY2015, the same year that the Apple Watch (with its fluoroelastomer bands) was introduced. But ever since then they’ve been on the decline, with just 5 locations in FY2018 and none at all this year. So, who is making Apple’s watch bands (which are still listed as fluoroelastomers) now? At least two existing Apple suppliers could be: 3M (Dyneon) and Solvay (Tecnoflon) - but without supplier addresses or product line information, we have no way to tell.
I suppose I’m glad that Apple released anything at all, but it’s hard not to see the 2021 report as disingenuous. It’s enticing, and meticulous, and yet it merely hints at the information that Apple seems to be disclosing. “How we make is as important as what we make,” they state on their supplier responsibility site. But in truth, their supplier list says nothing whatsoever about how Apple’s products are made. It’s just a list of corporate entities that Apple maintains some kind of relationship with; a theoretical hub-and-spoke map of what is, surely, one of the most coordinated and complex manufacturing organizations in the world.