Category winner:
Apple and its Suppliers: Corporate Social Responsibility

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This case won the Strategy and General Management category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2019.
The case

Jeff WilliamsWho – the protagonist

Jeff Williams, Senior Vice President for Operations at Apple.


Apple is the California-based multinational technology giant.


A BBC (British TV) documentary highlighted labour rights violations that continued to occur with Apple’s Chinese suppliers.


Pegatron was the second iPhone producer to have their methods scrutinised, with Apple’s Corporate Social Responsibility again called into question.

Apple deploy a vast, global supply chain and it was proving difficult for the American company to maintain control.


After being accused of having allowed labour rights violations in China at Foxconn in 2009, Apple were then placed under the spotlight for a second time with Pegatron in 2014.


Whilst Foxconn and Pegatron were based in China, Apple also had factories in the Czech Republic and Mexico, with its customers service centres based in the United States and Japan.

appleKey quote

“Apple doesn’t outright deny any of those allegations. Yet, it does pose the question: why pick on us?... It’s not the only tech company using cheap labour in Asian factories: in fact, show me one that doesn’t.” – Barry Collins, alphr columnist.

What next?

What should Jeff Williams and Apple do? Should they just accept the occasional bit of negative publicity, or should they tackle what is a complex issue?

Interested in finding out more?

Download the case and teaching note

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Apple and its Suppliers: Corporate Social Responsibility
Ref 9B16M040
Simplified Chinese language version

Ref 9B16MC040
Teaching note
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The authors

authorsSun Hye Lee, Kamel Mellahi and Michael J Mol

Sun talks about the desire to produce more cases and the popularity of Apple as a case subject.

Motivated to produce more cases

Sun said: “Winning this award is a great honour and the biggest possible encouragement to undertake more of this work. It was the first ever teaching case any of us had written, and it is an interesting form of creating new knowledge alongside research articles and other means.”

The appeal of Appleappeal of Apple

Sun continued: “We think it is Apple’s relevance that makes the company so popular as a case subject. Lecture rooms of business schools nowadays are filled with students from different national and cultural backgrounds. For teachers like us, a big challenge is to find companies that will grab all these students’ attention.

“Apple is among the most profitable and biggest companies, but also highly admired. Students are likely to have experience with Apple products one way or another. This means a case on Apple leads to high student engagement.

“Our case, however, differs a lot from the others in that it discusses a darker side of Apple, namely the social responsibility problems they have experienced in relation to manufacturing operations of Apple suppliers in China.”

Freely available informationFreely available information

She added: “For our case, we only used publicly available sources. Apple continuously wishes to advertise its good deeds, while the media and industry experts also have much to say about the company, both positive and negative. And this was particularly useful for our case where we talk about these negative events.

“These would probably not have come out through interview methods, at least not from interviewing people inside Apple.”

Pulling together

Sun concluded: “We greatly enjoyed every step of the case writing process. It might have taken a little bit longer than working alone; but working as a group definitely helped us to take diverse perspectives into account. Collaboration was particularly useful when we were writing the teaching note because each of us has different teaching experiences and styles.”

About the authors

Sun Hye Lee was a PhD student at Warwick Business School when the case was written. She is now a Lecturer in International Business at the School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University.

Kamel Mellahi is Professor of Strategic Management at Warwick Business School.

Michael J. Mol is Professor of Strategic and International Management in the Department of Strategic Management and Globalization at Copenhagen Business School and part-time Professor of Strategic and International Management at Birmingham Business School.


View all the 2019 winners