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Timberland Vs. ... Apple?

By Alyce Lomax - Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 9:40PM

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The bootmaker's CEO gives Apple a swift kick regarding sustainability.

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).

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
AAPL
$165.32 (2.15%) $3.48
Timberland LLC Stock Quote
Timberland LLC
TBL.DL
HP Inc. Stock Quote
HP Inc.
HPQ
$36.93 (-1.65%) $0.62
Dell Technologies Inc. Stock Quote
Dell Technologies Inc.
DELL.DL
Whole Foods Market, Inc. Stock Quote
Whole Foods Market, Inc.
WFM
NIKE, Inc. Stock Quote
NIKE, Inc.
NKE
$168.91 (-0.78%) $-1.33

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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