Zoom misses its own deadline to publish its first transparency report

How many government demands for user data has Zoom received? We won’t know until “later this year,” an updated Zoom blog post now says.

The video conferencing giant previously said it would release the number of government demands it has received by June 30. But the company said it’s missed that target and has given no firm new date for releasing the figures.

It comes amid heightened scrutiny of the service after a number of security issues and privacy concerns came to light following a massive spike in its user base, thanks to millions working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a blog post today reflecting on the company’s turnaround efforts, chief executive Eric Yuan said the company has made “made significant progress defining the framework and approach for a transparency report that details information related to requests Zoom receives for data, records, or content.”

“We look forward to providing the fiscal [second quarter data in our first report later this year,” he said.

Transparency reports offer rare insights into the number of demands or requests a company gets from the government for user data. These reports are not mandatory, but are important to understand the scale and scope of government surveillance.

Zoom said last month it would launch its first transparency report after the company admitted it briefly suspended the Zoom accounts of two U.S.-base accounts and one Hong Kong activist at the request of the Chinese government. The users, who were not based in China, held a Zoom call commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event that’s cloaked in secrecy and censorship in mainland China.

The company said at the time it “must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate,” but later said that it would change its policies to disallow requests from the Chinese government to impact users outside of mainland China.

A spokesperson for Zoom did not immediately comment.

La Haus is bringing US tech services to Latin America’s real estate market

The alchemy for a successful startup can be hard to parse. Sometimes, it’s who you know. Sometimes it’s where you go to school. And sometimes it’s what you do. In the case of La Haus, a startup that wants to bring US tech-enabled real estate services to the Latin American real estate market, it’s all three.

The company was founded by Jerónimo Uribe and Rodrigo Sánchez Ríos, both graduates of Stanford University who previously founded and ran Jaguar Capital, a Colombian real estate development firm which had built over $350 million worth of retail and residential projects in the country.

Uribe, son of the controversial Colombian President Daniel Uribe (who has been accused of financing paramilitary forces during Colombia’s long-running civil war and wire-tapping journalists and negotiators during the peace talks to end the conflict) and Sánchez Ríos, a former private equity professional at the multi-billion dollar firm Lindsey Goldberg were exposed to the perils and promise of real estate development with their former firm.

Now the two entrepreneurs are using their know-how, connections, and a new technology stack to streamline the home-buying process.

It’s that ambition that caught the attention of Pete Flint, the founder of Trulia and now an investor at the venture capital firm NfX. Flint, an early investor in La Haus saw the potential in La Haus to help the Latin American real estate market leapfrog the services available in the US. Spencer Rascoff, the co-founder of Zillow also invested in the company.

“Latin America is very early on in its infancy of having really professional agents and really professional brokerages,” said Flint.

LaHaus, with a product that guides homebuyers through every stage of the process with its own agents and salespeople selling properties sourced from the company’s developer connections.

“The average hone in the US sells in six weeks or less,” said La Haus chief financial officer Sánchez Ríos in an interview. “That timing in Latin America is fourteen months. That’s the dramatic difference. There is no infrastructure in Latin America as a whole.”

La Haus began by reaching out to the founders’ old colleagues in the real estate development industry and started listing new developments on its service. Now the company has a mix of existing and new properties for sale on its site and an expanded geographic footprint in both Colombia and Mexico.

“We have a portal… that acts as a lead generating machine,” said Sánchez Ríos. “We aggregate listings, we vet them. We focus on new developers.”

The company has about 500 developers using the service to list properties in Colombia and another 200 in Mexico. So far, the company has facilitated over 2000 transactions through its platform in three years.

“Real estate now is turning fully digital and also in this market professionalizing,” said Flint. “The publicly traded online real estate companies are approaching all time highs. People are just prizing the space that they spend their time in… the technologies from VR and digital walkthroughs to digital closes become not just a nice to have but a necessity. “

Capitalizing on the open field in the market, La Haus recently closed on $10 million in financing led by Kaszek Ventures, one of the leading funds in Latin America. That funding will be used to accelerate the company’s geographic expansion in response to increasing demand for digital solutions in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“Because of Covid-19, consumers’ willingness to conduct real estate transactions online has gone through the roof,” said Sánchez Ríos, in a statement. “Fortunately we were in the position to enable that, and we expect to see a permanent shift online in how people conduct all, or at least most, of the home-buying process. This funding gives us ample runway to build the end-to-end real estate experience for the post-Covid Latin America.”

Joining NFX, Rascoff, and Kaszek Ventures are a slew of investors including Acrew Capital, IMO Ventures and Beresford Ventures. Entrepreneurs like Nubank founder David Velez; Brian Requarth, the founder of Vivareal (now GrupoZap); and Hadi Partovi, CEO and founder of Code.org also participated in the financing.

“We backed La Haus because we saw many of the same ingredients that resulted in a fantastic outcome for many of our successful companies: A world-class team with complementary skills; a huge addressable market; and an almost religious zeal by the founders to solve a big problem with technology,” said Hernan Kazah, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek Ventures. 

Rewarding civic pride and boosting the local economy? Akron, Ohio is trying out a startup for that

Akron, Ohio, the hometown of LeBron James and the seat of the US tire industry; the one hundred and twenty seventh largest city in the US; and the home of America’s first toy company is now the latest site of a global experiment in whether cities can use behavioral economics to help foster good citizenship.

Thanks to the work of the city’s deputy mayor for integrated development, James Hardy, Akron is the first city to roll out services from an Israeli-based company called Colu. A startup backed by just over $20 million in financing from American and Israeli investors, the company has developed an app-based rewards service that cities can roll out to provide perks to users.

In Akron’s case, the initiative rewards points for shopping at local businesses that can be redeemed for discounts at those stores. The initial effort, which includes a platform for businesses to market directly to the app’s users, focuses on businesses owned by women and minorities (a response to the movement for racial justice that has sprung up in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis).

Akron is the first city of what Colu founder Amos Meiri expects to be a nationwide rollout throughout the US. The company already has managed to ink another agreement with the city of Chula Vista, Calif.

Colu, which has raised its capital from investors associated with blockchain technologies like Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group; the Boston-based venture capital firm, Spark Capital; New York’s Box Group and the Israeli corporate conglomerate, IDB Group, has deep ties to the cryptocurrency world of alternative financial instruments through Meiri.

One of the original architects of the Ethereum protocol, Meiri’s work with Colu is in some ways an extension of that effort to create new kinds of economies powered by alternative financial mechanisms.

Meiri said cities typically pay for Colu out of their marketing budgets as a new way to communicate and attempt to influence civic behavior.

For Akron’s government officials, the company’s services are a way to boost locally owned businesses that have been hit hard by the state’s attempts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our locally owned small businesses are facing enormous challenges and we need out-of-the-box ideas that safely connect them to consumers and turn local spending into a source of pride for residents,” said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, in a statement. “Our partnership with Colu will enable the city to reward customers for shopping local, improving revenues for our small businesses while helping folks stretch their dollars.”

Earlier work with the municipal government in Tel Aviv promoted sustainable business practice and encouraged businesses to do more to manage their waste and carbon footprint by introducing a “green label”. Businesses that followed the city’s guidelines were given the label and shoppers were encouraged to frequent those merchants.

Colu envisions itself as more than just a marketing and rewards platform for businesses. The company hopes it can draw users into a kind of social networking platform for civic engagement where users can share their own stories about city-life and their interactions with local business owners and the community.

In some ways, it’s a kinder, gentler version of China’s social credit scoring system, which is also designed to influence civic behavior. In this formulation, there’s a rewards system, but no mechanisms to punish citizens for bad behavior.

“Akron has a long history of innovation within our economy — this initiative draws on that legacy,” said Deputy Mayor Hardy, in a statement. “By putting the future of Akron’s locally owned small businesses in the palm of our citizens’ hands, we hope to make it easy for consumers to keep their money local and continue to strengthen our incredible community.”

Gauging growth in the most challenging environment in decades

Traditionally, measuring business success requires a greater understanding of your company’s go-to-market lifecycle, how customers engage with your product and the macro-dynamics of your market. But in the most challenging environment in decades, those metrics are out the window.

Enterprise application and SaaS companies are changing their approach to measuring performance and preparing to grow when the economy begins to recover. While there are no blanket rules or guidance that applies to every business, company leaders need to focus on a few critical metrics to understand their performance and maximize their opportunities. This includes understanding their burn rate, the overall real market opportunity, how much cash they have on hand and their access to capital. Analyzing the health of the company through these lenses will help leaders make the right decisions on how to move forward.

Play the game with the hand you were dealt. Earlier this year, our company closed a $40 million Series C round of funding, which left us in a strong cash position as we entered the market slowdown in March. Nonetheless, as the impact of COVID-19 became apparent, one of our board members suggested that we quickly develop a business plan that assumed we were running out of money. This would enable us to get on top of the tough decisions we might need to make on our resource allocation and the size of our staff.

While I understood the logic of his exercise, it is important that companies develop and execute against plans that reflect their actual situation. The reality is, we did raise the money, so we revised our plan to balance ultra-conservative forecasting (and as a trained accountant, this is no stretch for me!) with new ideas for how to best utilize our resources based on the market situation.

Burn rate matters, but not at the expense of your culture and your talent. For most companies, talent is both their most important resource and their largest expense. Therefore, it’s usually the first area that goes under the knife in order to reduce the monthly spend and optimize efficiency. Fortunately, heading into the pandemic, we had not yet ramped up hiring to support our rapid growth, so were spared from having to make enormously difficult decisions. We knew, however, that we would not hit our 2020 forecast, which required us to make new projections and reevaluate how we were deploying our talent.

Uber Africa launches Uber Cash with Flutterwave and explores EVs

Uber is launching its Uber Cash digital wallet feature in Sub-Saharan Africa through a partnership with San Francisco based — Nigerian founded — fintech firm Flutterwave.

The arrangement will allow riders to top up Uber wallets using the dozens of remittance partners active on Flutterwave’s Pan-African network.

Flutterwave operates as a B2B payments gateway network that allows clients to tap its APIs and customize payments applications.

Uber Cash will go live this week and next for Uber’s ride-hail operations in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana, Ivory Coast and Tanzania, according to Alon Lits — Uber’s General Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Depending on the country, you’ve got different top up methods available. For example in Nigeria you can use your Verve Card or mobile money. In Kenya, you can use M-Pesa and EFT and in South Africa you can top up with EFT,” said Lits.

Uber Cash in Africa will also accept transfers from Flutterwave’s Barter payment app, launched with Visa in 2019.

The move could increase Uber’s ride traffic in Africa by boosting the volume of funds sent to digital wallets and reducing friction in the payment process.

Uber still accepts cash on the continent — which has one of the world’s largest unbanked populations — but has made strides on financial inclusion through mobile money.

Update on Uber Africa

Uber has been in Africa since 2015 and continued to adapt to local market dynamics, including global and local competition and more recently, COVID-19. The company’s GM Alon Lits spoke to TechCrunch on updates — including EV possibilities — and weathering the coronavirus outbreak in Africa.

Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa continued to run through the pandemic, with a couple exceptions. “The only places we ceased operations was where there were government directives,” Lits said. That included Uganda and Lagos, Nigeria.

Though he couldn’t share data, Lits acknowledged there had been a significant reduction in Uber’s Africa business through the pandemic, in line with the 70% drop in global ride volume Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi disclosed in March.

“You can imagine in markets where we were not allowed to operate revenues obviously go to zero,” said Lits.

Like Africa’s broader tech ecosystem, Uber has adapted its business to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Africa, which hit hardest in March and April and led to lockdowns in key economies, such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa

On how to make people feel safe about ride-hailing in a coronavirus world, Lits highlighted some specific practices. In line with Uber’s global policy, it’s mandatory in Africa for riders and drivers to wear masks.

“We’re actually leveraging facial recognition technology to check that drivers are wearing masks before they go,” said Lits. Uber Africa is also experimenting with impact safe, plastic dividers for its cars in Kenya and Nigeria.

Uber Africa Nairobi

Image Credits: Uber

In Africa, Uber has continued to expand its services and experiment with things the company doesn’t do in in any major markets. The first was allowing cash payments in 2016 — something Uber hopes the introduction of Uber Cash will help reduce.

Along with rival Bolt, Uber connected ride-hail products to Africa’s motorcycle and three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxi markets in 2018.

Uber moved into delivery in Africa, with Uber Eats, and recently started transporting medical supplies in South Africa through a partnership with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mobility Africa

In addition to global competitors, such as Bolt, Uber faces local competition as Africa’s mobility sector becomes a hotspot for VC and startups.

A couple trends worth tracking will be Uber’s potential expansion to Ethiopia and moves toward EV development in Africa.

On Ethiopia, the country has a nascent tech scene with the strongest demographic and economic thesis — Africa’s second largest population and seventh biggest economy — to become the continent’s next digital hotspot.

Ethiopia also has a burgeoning ride-hail industry, with local mobility ventures Ride and Zayride. Uber hasn’t mentioned (that we know of) any intent to move into the East African country. But if it does, that would serve as a strong indicator of the company’s commitment to remaining a mobility player in Africa.

Ampersand Africa e motorcycle

Ampersand in Rwanda, Image Credits: Ampersand

With regards to electric, there’s been movement on the continent over the last year toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use.

In 2019, Nigerian mobility startup MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round backed by Yamaha, a portion of which was dedicated to pilot e-motorcycles powered by renewable energy.

Last year the government of Rwanda established a national plan to phase out gas motorcycle taxis for e-motos, working in partnership with EV startup Ampersand.

And in May, Vaya Africa — a ride-hail mobility venture founded by mogul Strive Masiyiwa — launched an electric taxi service and solar charging network in Zimbabwe. Vaya plans to expand the program across the continent and is exploring e-moto passenger and delivery products.

On Uber’s moves toward electric in Africa, it could begin with two or three wheeled transit.

“That’s something we’ve been looking at in South Africa…nothing that we’ve launched yet, but it is a conversation that’s ongoing,” said Uber’s Sub-Saharan Africa GM Alon Lits.

He noted one of the challenges of such an electric model on the continent is lack of a robust charging infrastructure.

Even so, if Uber enters that space — with Vaya and others — emissions free ride-hail and delivery EVs buzzing around African cities could soon be a reality.

RudderStack raises $5M seed round for its open-source Segment competitor

RudderStack, a startup that offers an open-source alternative to customer data management platforms like Segment, today announced that it has raised a $5 million seed round led by S28 Captial. Salil Deshpande of Uncorrelated Ventures and Mesosphere/D2iQ co-founder Florian Leibert (through 468 Capital) also participated in this round.

In addition, the company also today announced that it has acquired Blendo, an integration platform that helps businesses transform and move data from their data sources to databases.

Like its larger competitors, RudderStack helps businesses consolidate all of their customer data, which is now typically generated and managed in multiple places — and then extract value from this more holistic view. The company was founded by Soumyadeb Mitra, who has a Ph.D. in database systems and worked on similar problems previously when he was at 8×8 after his previous startup, MairinaIQ, was acquired by that company.

Mitra argues that RudderStack is different from its competitors thanks to its focus on developers, its privacy and security options and its focus on being a data warehouse first, without creating yet another data silo.

“Our competitors provide tools for analytics, audience segmentation, etc. on top of the data they keep,” he said. “That works well if you are a small startup, but larger enterprises have a ton of other data sources — at 8×8 we had our own internal billing system, for example — and you want to combine this internal data with the event stream data — that you collect via RudderStack or competitors — to create a 360-degree view of the customer and act on that. This becomes very difficult with the SaaS hosted data model of our competitors — you won’t be sending all your internal data to these cloud vendors.”

Part of its appeal, of course, is the open-source nature of RudderStack, whose GitHub repository now has over 1,700 stars for the main RudderStack server. Mitra credits getting on the front page of HackerNews for its first sale. On that day, it received over 500 GitHub stars, a few thousand clones and a lot of signups for its hosted app. “One of those signups turned out to be our first paid customer. They were already a competitor’s customer but it wasn’t scaling up so were looking to build something inhouse. That’s when they found us and started working with us,” he said.

Since it is open source, companies can run RudderStack anyway they want, but like most similar open-source companies, RudderStack offers multiple hosting options itself, too, that include cloud hosting, starting at $2,000 per month, with unlimited sources and destination.

Current users include IFTTT, Mattermost, MarineTraffic, Torpedo and Wynn Las Vegas.

As for the Blendo acquisition, it’s worth noting that the company only raised a small amount of money in its seed round. The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition.

“With Blendo, I had the opportunity to be part of a great team that executed on the vision of turning any company into a data-driven organization,” said Blendo founder Kostas Pardalis, who has joined RudderStack as Head of Growth. “We’ve combined the talented Blendo and RudderStack teams together with the technology that both companies have created, at a time when the customer data market is ripe for the next wave of innovation. I’m excited to help drive RudderStack forward.”

Mitra tells me that RudderStack acquired Blendo instead of building its own version of this technology because “it is not a trivial technology to build — cloud sources are really complicated and have weird schemas and API challenges and it would have taken us a lot of time to figure it out. There are independent large companies doing the ETL piece.”

Microsoft acquires robotic process automation platform Softomotive

During his Build keynote, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today confirmed that the company has acquired Softomotive, a software robotic automation platform. Bloomberg first reported that this acquisition was in the works earlier this month, but the two companies didn’t comment on the report at the time.

Today, Nadella noted that Softomotive would become part of Microsoft’s Power Automate platform. “We’re bringing RPA – or robotic process automation to legacy apps and services with our acquisition of Softomotive,” Nadella said.

Softomotive currently has about 9,000 customers around the world. Softomotive’s WinAutomation platform will be freely available to Power Automate users with what Microsoft calls an RPA attended license in Power Automate.

In Power Automate, Microsoft will use Softomotive’s tools to enable a number of new capabilities, including Softomotives low-code desktop automation solution WinAutomation. Until now, Power Automate did not feature any desktop automation tools.

It’ll also build Softomotive’s connectors for applications from SAP, as well as legacy terminal screens and Java, into its desktop automation experience and enable parallel execution and multitasking for UI automation.

Softomotives other flagship application, ProcessRobot for server-based enterprise RPA development, will also find a new home in Power Automate. My guess, though, is that Microsoft mostly bought the company for its desktop automation skills.

“One of our most distinguishing characteristics, and an indelible part of our DNA, is an unswerving commitment to usability,” writes Softomotive CEO and co-founder Marios Stavropoulos. “We have always believed in the notion of citizen developers and, since less than two percent of the world population can write code, we believe the greatest potential for both process improvement and overall innovation comes from business end users. This is why we have invested so diligently in abstracting complexity away from end users and created one of the industry’s most intuitive user interfaces – so that non-technical business end users can not just do more, but also make deeper contributions by becoming professional problem solvers and innovators. We are extremely excited to pursue this vision as part of Microsoft.”

The two companies did not disclose the financial details of the transaction.

Study launched into how startups will return to offices — will WFH continue?

A comprehensive study into how startups will work in the future, in the wake of the global COVID-9 pandemic, has been launched by UK non-profit Founders Forum. The initiative comes in the wake of a number of organizations announcing extended offices closures and ‘Work From Home’ policies.

The group hopes the COVID-19 Workplace Survey will give the startup community actionable data in order that founders can make critical decisions regarding their return to work strategy and service providers (including accelerator programmes, co-working spaces and investors) can best support startups in a “post-COVID-19” world.

The initiative was started by Brent Hoberman, co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Founders Forum, Founders Factory and firstminute capital.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Hoberman said: “Founders are having to make critical decisions about their return to work strategy in isolation”. He says the survey aims to measure “the current action being taken by founders of early-stage businesses regarding their office spaces and remote work strategies” as well as “employee sentiment about returning to the workplace”. This will then help “guide both founders and service providers on what can be done to improve the situation for these startups and their employees”.

The COVID-19 Workplace Survey is an anonymous survey designed to answer these core questions:

  • Are startups re-opening their offices?
  • If not, when do they plan to do so?
  • As soon as the UK government advises that it’s safe to do so?
  • This year? Next year?
  • What safety measures are they taking in order to do so?
  • Beyond this, how has COVID-19 changed thinking surrounding remote work policies?

Hoberman explained: “We want founders to know the answer to ‘How are other Founders changing their workplace strategy?’”.

He added that founders also need to understand how each employee’s remote work environment influences their opinion on remote work policies going forward, given there is no one-size-fits-all solution: “What do different demographics really want in the way of remote work?”.

For service providers like co-working spaces, they will also find out what startups will want from their workplaces (e.g flexible desk space, shared meeting rooms) in the post-lockdown environment.

The survey will run for the next 10 days and the results will be published on TechCrunch .

Apple Operations SVP details supply chain safety changes due to COVID-19

Today, Apple released its 2020 Supplier Responsibility progress report. In it, Senior Vice President of Operations Sabih Khan published a letter that details an outline of the plan it created to increase safety and protection efforts in its supply chain worldwide.

As far as I can tell this is the first time that Khan has written publicly since he was appointed to this role in 2019. The letter walks through some of the efforts Apple has made to ensure, as Khan states, a “right to a safe and healthy workplace” for Apple employees and supply chain members.

As a pole position company that is the premier manufacturer of consumer electronics in the world, Apple’s stances and efforts here are obviously under an incredible microscope. The measures that it takes will serve as a playbook for worldwide manufacturers going forward.

After thanking Apple’s suppliers around the word, Khan says that thousands of its employees worked with suppliers to create a plan to continue business in a fashion that took to account health recommendations in each country as well as the universal rules that govern coronavirus spread mitigation.

Apple Senior Vice President,
Operations, Sabih Khan

A few actions it has taken at its supplier facilities:

  • Health screenings
  • Limiting density and enforcing strict social distancing
  • Requiring the use of PPE both during work and in common areas
  • Implementing enhanced deep-cleaning protocols
  • Deploying masks and sanitizers to employees

Apple has also redesigned and reconfigured factory floor plans at its suppliers where needed. It has also introduced flexible work hours like staggered work shifts to ensure social distancing measures can be maintained.

In addition to executing protections at its own suppliers, Apple is sharing its plans with NGOs and other organizations to help establish standards across the industry.

“We put people first in everything we do — and require everyone we work with to do the same — because we want to uphold the highest standards,” Khan says in the letter. “Our Supplier Code of Conduct prevents discrimination and harassment of any kind, and supplier employees are provided anonymous channels to speak up. We partner with our suppliers to create educational and training opportunities, including traditional college degree programs, vocational training initiatives, and health and wellness programs so their employees can learn new skills and work toward fulfilling their goals.”

Apple’s supplier report would normally be released in the February-March time frame but it wanted to take some time to plan and execute protection measures first before issuing the report and details of its adjustments due to COVID-19.

“While COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge, we’ve also drawn hope and inspiration from humanity’s renewed focus on the health of our colleagues, friends, and neighbors. That consciousness — of our health and the health of others — is something we can always carry with us,” Khan finishes. “Our work to protect people and the planet may never be finished — but we’ve never been more confident that our brightest days are still ahead.”

The supplier report this year is based on interviews of 52,000 workers in its supply chain. It is also auditing suppliers in 49 countries now, up from 30 in 2018 — with a total of 1,142 audits in 2019. Apple’s Zero Waste program was introduced in 2015 in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and waste from its supply chain. This report says that the program is now integrated into final assembly, testing and packaging across all of its major products. Apple diverted 1.3 million metric tons of waste from landfills last year and re-used 40% of water from its manufacturing process — some 9.4 billion gallons.

The full text of Khan’s letter is below.

Health comes first. Now and always.

As people around the world continue to face many challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the importance of protecting the planet and treating everyone with dignity and respect — values that inform every decision we make.

Our Supplier Responsibility Progress Report is a look back at the progress we achieved in bringing those commitments to life last year. But I first want to share some of the actions we’re taking in our global supply chain right now to address COVID-19’s unprecedented challenges, and to ensure people are able to return to work safely — because everyone has the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

This pandemic has left no country untouched, and we want to thank all our suppliers around the world for their commitment, flexibility and care for their teams as we navigate COVID-19’s complex and rapidly evolving impacts. From the outset, we worked with our suppliers to develop and execute a plan that puts the health of people first.  Thousands of Apple employees have worked tirelessly to execute that plan in partnership with our suppliers around the world.

First and foremost, that’s meant working with our suppliers around the world on a range of protections suited to the circumstances in each country, including health screenings, limiting density, and ensuring strict adherence to social distancing in their facilities. We’re requiring the use of personal protective equipment — both during work and in all common areas — and have worked together to implement enhanced deep cleaning protocols and deploy masks and sanitizers.

Our teams have also partnered with suppliers to redesign and reconfigure factory floorplans where needed and to implement flexible working hours — including staggered work shifts — to maximize interpersonal space. We continue to work closely with leading medical and privacy experts to develop advanced health and safety protocols.

As we develop tools and implement best practices across our entire supply chain, we are also sharing what we learn within our industry and beyond.  We haven’t allowed COVID-19 to undermine the values that have long defined who we are — values rooted in the responsibilities we have to one another and to the planet.

This year’s Supplier Responsibility Progress Report describes our work to bring all of those commitments to life in 2019. Whether it’s helping with the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, or training millions of people on their workplace rights, we apply our values in all aspects of our business, and every year, we raise the bar that our suppliers must meet as well.

We put people first in everything we do— and require everyone we work with to do the same — because we want to uphold the highest standards. Our Supplier Code of Conduct prevents discrimination and harassment of any kind, and supplier employees are provided anonymous channels to speak up.  We partner with our suppliers to create educational and training opportunities, including traditional college degree programs, vocational training initiatives, and health and wellness programs so their employees can learn new skills and work toward fulfilling their goals.

We’re committed to transparently reporting the progress we’ve made and have yet to make. This report draws on interviews from more than 50,000 employees in our supply chain and more than one thousand audits of supplier facilities across 49 countries — including surprise audits. The same attention to detail and innovation that goes into our products informs this report, and the work to ensure our worldwide network of suppliers upholds the standards themselves.

The environment we all share is fragile, and we are more dedicated than ever to fighting climate change and reducing emissions. Through strategic partnerships, we’re helping our suppliers shrink their carbon footprint and conserve precious resources, like water and energy. Green manufacturing is smart manufacturing, and, more broadly, we know what is good for the environment is also good for business.   

While COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge, we’ve also drawn hope and inspiration from humanity’s renewed focus on the health of our colleagues, friends, and neighbors. That consciousness — of our health and the health of others — is something we can always carry with us.

Our work to protect people and the planet may never be finished — but we’ve never been more confident that our brightest days are still ahead.

Sabih Khan is Apple’s Senior Vice President of Operations.

Sabih leads Apple’s global supply chain, which includes Supplier Responsibility.

Startups are transforming global trade in the COVID-19 era

Global trade watchers breathed a sigh of relief on January 15, 2020.

After two years of threats, tariffs and tweets, there was finally a truce in the trade war between the U.S. and China. The agreement signed by President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office didn’t resolve all trade tensions and maintained most of the $360 billion in tariffs the administration had put on Chinese goods. But for the first time in months, it looked like manufacturers, importers and shippers could start to put two difficult years behind them.

Then came COVID-19, at first a local disruption in Wuhan, China. Then it spread throughout Hubei province, causing havoc in a concentric circle that eventually engulfed the rest of China, where industrial production fell by more than 13.5% in the first two months of the year. When the virus spread everywhere, chaos ensued: Factories shuttered. Borders closed. Supply chains crumbled.

“It has had a cascading effect through the entire world’s economy,” says Anja Manuel, co-founder and managing partner of Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley.

The crisis has caused a drastic contraction in global trade; the World Trade Organization estimates trade volumes will fall 13-20% in 2020. And spinning activity back up could be tricky: Even as China starts to get back online, the slowdown there could reduce worldwide exports by $50 billion this year. When factories do reopen, there’s no guarantee whether they will have parts available or empty warehouses, says Manuel, who also serves on the advisory board of Flexport, a shipping logistics startup. “Our supply chains are so tightly-knit and so just-in-time that throw a few wrenches in it like we’ve just done, and it’s going to be really hard to stand it back up again. The idea that we go back to normal the moment we lift restrictions is unlikely, fanciful, even.”

Getting to that new normal, though, is a job that a number of logistics startups are embracing. Already on the rise, companies like Flexport, Haven and Factiv see a global trade crisis as a setback, but also an opportunity to demonstrate the value of their digital platforms in a very much analog industry.