Timberland Vs. ... Apple?

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This article is part of our Rising Stars Portfolio series.

Should consumers have to choose between "moral consumption" and the coolest technology? Timberland's (NYSE: TBL  ) CEO Jeffrey Swartz posed that question in a recent blog post aimed squarely at Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) and its devoted fans.

Swartz's blog is called Rantings of a Responsible CEO, and this particular post, highlighted by ZDNet, centered on responsibility in corporate supply chains. Swartz contended that companies in his own industry have to be transparent regarding supply chain issues, unlike tech companies. He pointed out that such openness from companies like Timberland, Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) , and Adidas has debunked "competitive secret" myths.

Swartz makes valid points in his criticism, discussing how Apple does seem to get away with pretty unpleasant business concerning the foreign suppliers it relies on. Apple recently admitted that 137 workers had been injured from exposure to toxic chemicals while making iPhone components at supplier Wintek. Then there are the troubling reports regarding Apple supplier Foxconn, which go beyond the company's controversy about worker suicides. Just days ago, an explosion at Foxconn killed three workers and injured others.

Swartz's conclusion comes from a consumer perspective:

Apple should keep exceeding my expectations for products, but not at the expense of my expectations for social and environmental responsibility. They can and must show leadership in sustainability, not just in technology. That would be Thinking Differently.

Granted, Apple's not alone here. Other Foxconn customers include tech heavyweights such as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) . However, those tech companies' brands don't bring about quite the same emotional response that Apple's products do. For example, when Whole Foods Market's (Nasdaq: WFM  ) John Mackey came to the Fool to talk about conscious capitalism, he talked about how "great companies have great purposes," and discussed Apple as a good example of The Beautiful (highlighting excellence and the quest for perfection).

Clearly, Swartz's criticism of Apple shows that some corporate managements accept the challenge to strive beyond a base sense of purpose toward a higher calling. Calling out other companies to join this vanguard helps change corporate thinking overall.

Moments like this support why Timberland was the first pick for my Rising Stars portfolio, and make me feel even more confident about that decision for the long term. If responsible CEOs' rantings usher in more big ideas like this, I say bring them on.

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series, where we give some of our most promising stock analysts cold, hard cash to manage on the Fool's behalf. We'd like you to track our performance and benefit from these real-money, real-time free stock picks. See all of our Rising Star analysts (and their portfolios).

The Motley Fool owns shares of Timberland, Apple, Adidas, and Whole Foods Market. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Whole Foods Market, Timberland, Apple, Adidas, and Nike. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market. For more on this and other topics, check back at, or follow her on Twitter: @AlyceLomax. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 24, 2011, at 3:51 PM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    Could we please have a full list of Motley Fools suppliers so that we can search through all their problems and discuss Motley Fool's moral degradation for dealing with them.

    Let's start with your bankers and your accountants please.

  • Report this Comment On May 24, 2011, at 10:50 PM, phoebe44 wrote:

    I hope, sincerely, this isn't a diversion tactic on the part of Timberline since they are recently under investigation brought by their shareholders because of insider selling (excessive selling at an all time high share price) just prior to one of the worst surprise quarterly reports the company has ever had. Not surprising was the horrendous drop in share price which followed and is still at least $20.00 lower per share.

  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2011, at 10:04 AM, Turfscape wrote:

    Wow...if you're getting called out by the SHOE industry for irresponsible, foreign manufacturing, things must be REALLY bad!

    Two things come to mind for me: 1) The fashion industry has, and continues to enjoy a "free pass" on foreign supplier issues (from the ZDNet article)...just as much as anyone else. Quite frankly, it's a small minority of Americans that are going to pay more for any item just to insure that 3rd world workers weren't exploited. I do hope that this changes...but just like you, I also want my clothes, food, and television sets to be affordable. Society is making small strides towards sustainability, and if that starts with produce, good. If that continues to other products, great!

    2) While I agree with Swartz's sentiment, it's narrow-sighted and very insincere to put this on Apple and the technology industry. This issue crosses over nearly every industry that has any level of manufacturing. Apple happens to be a very visible component, primarily because its meteoric rise over the past 10 or 12 years has kept it on the front page of every business news outlet in the country. And, yes, they should lead. But, the folks in China making my toilet flush valve are not any better off than anyone at Foxconn. And a LOT more people buy toilet flush valves than iPods and Macs.

  • Report this Comment On June 07, 2011, at 11:52 AM, mrethiopian wrote:

    I worked for Timberland and Mr. Swartz at one point in my life and I can tell you first hand that all the hype about Timberland being socially, physically and environmentally responsible is nothing more than a ploy to sell your the stupid consumer more product (Boots).

    It was common knowledge between the employees that most if not all of the articles stating Timberland was the best place to work, top 100 company's in America, environment pioneer was all BS paid for by the CEO J, Swartz.


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