In a move of expert timing, Apple issued its 2010 Progress Report on Supplier Responsibility (PDF) on Tuesday. That the report arrives just two days ahead of its annual shareholder meeting is no coincidence; no doubt the company would like to have something positive to talk about during the pow-wow, in which shareholders often take advantage of the opportunity to grill the company’s executives on matters of social responsibility.

Like many companies, Apple’s manufacturing business is primarily located overseas, in countries such as Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

Many of these countries have been the source of widespread labor problems, such as sub-par working conditions.

In 2006, allegations surfaced that employees of Foxconn, one of Apple’s manufacturers, were being subjected to inhumane working conditions. Apple responded by investigating the claims, and eventually determined that there had been violations, which it set about remedying.

Since then, the company has increased its yearly audits of its supply chain to insure that facilities are in compliance with the company’s code of conduct (PDF). Problems, however, have persisted.

Last year, an employee at a Foxconn plant in China committed suicide after supposedly losing a prototype iPhone; the Chinese authorities subsequently investigated allegations of the man’s abuse at the hands of Foxconn’s security personnel.

This year’s 24-page progress report includes the results of supplier audits that Apple carried out in 2009, as well as information about programs Apple has enacted to help improve conditions for workers across its supply base.

Education

Among the topics discussed in the report is Apple’s Train-the-Trainer program, which educates human resources personnel at manufacturing facilities on training assembly line workers about subjects like Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, occupational health and safety, prevention of work-related injury, and workers’ rights and obligations. Apple said more than 133,000 people have been trained since the beginning of the program in 2008.

In addition, Apple began a pilot program in 2009 called Supplier Employee Education and Development (SEED), which provides a computer-based classroom of 500 iMacs and offers English-language courses, technical skill training, and even associate degree programs. The company said 14,800 workers took advantage of the courses last year.

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