Apple's China 'Suppliers' Under Fire for Pollution

Sept. 1, 2011
China's Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs said plants it believed were making Apple's products were discharging toxic substances, harming workers and local residents.

A Chinese environmental group said factories it believes are contracted to make Apple products are engaging in rampant pollution, and accused the technology giant of turning a blind eye.

Apple does not disclose its suppliers in China, but the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs said plants it believes are making the company's products are discharging toxic substances, harming workers and local residents.

"The large volume of discharge in Apple's supply chain greatly endangers the public's health and safety," said a report released on Aug. 31 by the institute and several other Chinese environmental campaign groups. "Through the process of our investigations, we discovered several suspected suppliers to Apple that have been the target of numerous complaints from local communities.

"Under the cover of Apple's annual auditing report, the company continues to issue contracts to polluting companies ... so as to pursue blood-stained profits at the cost of the environment and communities," it said.

The institute is run by Ma Jun, a former investigative journalist turned environmental campaigner who was named by Time magazine in 2006 as one of the world's 100 most influential people.

Apple products such as iPhones and iPads are hugely popular among China's growing middle class, and the company says its four stores in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai are its most profitable in the world.

Ma said his group received an email from Apple on Aug. 31 asking for direct talks, an unusual move for the technology giant and an indication of how damaging the allegations could be.

"We have documented what people living near their plants have told us and are eager to share this information with Apple," he said in a telephone interview.

In the Apple email to the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, Apple said it found "discrepancies" in the group's report.

"We evaluated the list of suppliers you provided and found discrepancies," Apple said in its unsigned email from the supplier responsibility department. "Several suppliers are not in our supply chain. We would be interested in hearing more specifics about what you have discovered about these suppliers."

The institute said Apple had failed to respond to similar allegations raised in a report it issued in January.

An Apple spokeswoman said the company is considering the latest allegations and had carried out audits of practices at 127 factories around the world last year.

"We require that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made," said Carolyn Wu. Apple would not say how many of the 2010 audits were conducted in China.

The company has in the past confirmed that two Chinese factories -- one owned by Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn and the other by WinTek, also a Taiwanese company -- were making its products. It acknowledged the FoxConn plant after a series of worker suicides there and has said that in 2010, 137 workers at the WinTek plant suffered "adverse health effects" when exposed to a chemical substance called N-hexane, used to clean screens.

In February, Apple said it had required WinTek to stop using N-hexane, prove it had done so and to fix its ventilation system.

The comment came in its Supplier Responsibility 2011 progress report, issued after institute's January report.

The latest report details numerous cases of Chinese communities whose health the group claims has been endangered by the presence of a factory. It quotes villagers in the eastern village of Tongxin, near Shanghai, as saying water in their local stream has become "inky black" since waste water from a factory began flowing into it.

"The villagers of Tongxin used to live in a peaceful farming community. Since the factory arrived they deal with unbearable discharge and noise every day," said Ma.

"The residents of this community sent us a list documenting nine confirmed cases of various types of cancer in a village of fewer than 60 people.

"We worry that their health and their children's health will be severely damaged. We're frustrated that we often can't even get through to the factories to acknowledge that they are working with Apple. They won't even accept a fax."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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