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Apple secretive about ‘polluting and poisoning’ supply chain, says report

Apple secretive about ‘polluting and poisoning’ supply chain, says report post image

Apple’s transparency in relation to pollution the company produces seems somewhat wanting, if a new report the following article refers to is anything to go by.

As the article points out, many leading brands, not only Apple, outsource production to little-known companies in China, where labor costs are often lower. Additionally, weak safety and environmental standards can sometimes be on offer.

It seems this question continues to linger: how green are our Apples? And yes, I’m using one right now as it happens.

Steve Jobs image CC licensed by marcopako

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Apple secretive about ‘polluting and poisoning’ supply chain, says report” was written by Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, for The Guardian on Thursday 20th January 2011 03.06 UTC

Apple is more secretive about its supply chain in China than almost all of its rivals, according to a new report by anti-pollution activists who accuse the company’s products of degrading the environment and poisoning workers.

Despite its claim to be a leading promoter of corporate ethics worldwide, the maker of iPads and iPhones came joint bottom among 29 major IT firms in a transparency study drawn up by a coalition of China’s leading environmental groups.

"Behind their stylish image, Apple products have a side many do not know about – pollution and poison. This side is hidden deep within the company’s secretive supply chain," claims a statement by the 36 groups involved in the Green Choice Initiative.

Their report – the fourth to look at the impact of global brands on China’s environment – considers the openness of IT firms and their responsiveness to reports of environmental violations at suppliers.

It follows a series of workplace poisonings, heavy metal contamination incidents and suicides at Chinese factories that supply materials and components for mobile phones and computers.

Many leading brands outsource production to little-known Chinese firms, where labour costs can be lower, safety standards weaker and environmental regulations more lax than in the west.

Foreign companies say they promote global levels of corporate social responsibility. Apple’s supplier code of conduct claims to draw upon "internationally recognised standards to advance social and environmental responsibility".

But it is difficult for third parties to hold foreign firms to account because they tend to be secretive about their suppliers, citing corporate confidentiality. This lack of transparency, combined with official corruption and dire political accountability, has made China a haven for polluters.

In recent years, more than 3,000 children have been diagnosed with unsafe levels of lead in their blood in a series of heavy-metal contamination outbreaks near smelting plants. Many of the facilities provided materials used in the batteries and casings for foreign IT firms.

None of the 29 firms in the survey obliged their suppliers to disclose details of waste discharges, though there were big differences in their responses to public inquiries and reported environmental problems. Apple was ranked – alongside other major consumer electronics firms – as the least willing to provide data or to answer questions about suppliers.

The authors say Apple’s suppliers have been involved in breaches of environmental regulations. The report noted waste discharge violations in recent years at several Chinese firms that are thought to be part of Apple’s supply chain.

Labour conditions were also called into question when at least a dozen workers jumped to their deaths last spring at the Foxconn electronics complex in Shenzhen, which makes parts for Apple and other foreign companies.

Critics say foreign firms are largely responsible for pollution because they insist on low prices, which puts pressure on suppliers to cut costs and corners. This is disputed by the companies.

Apple’s reticence was heavily criticised last May, when at least 62 workers fell sick after inhaling n-hexane used to clean touch screens at a Wintek electronics factory in Suzhou. The managers at the Taiwan-owned plant reportedly switched to the noxious chemical – which can cause nerve damage for up to two years – apparently because it dried more quickly than alcohol, thus increasing efficiency.

Hospitalised victims, cited in the new Green Choice video, said they made products for Apple and have written to the company’s chief executive, Steve Jobs, requesting an explanation.

"We want to ask you whether or not you should be responsible for the supplier companies you have chosen?" they ask in the letter. "When you look down at the Apple phone you are using in your hand and you swipe it with your finger is it possible that you can feel as if it is no longer a beautiful screen to show off, but the life and the blood of us employees and victims? Did you supervise the auditing staff to ensure that they were responsible and diligent?"

Nokia and Motorola responded to questions about their involvement with Wintek soon after the poisoning was revealed. Apple has yet to confirm or deny a relationship. The company said it would not comment on individual allegations.

The report’s authors say they tried for months to raise Wintek with Apple, but it refused to comment directly.

"This attitude means it is impossible to have any public supervision over their supply chain. Without that how can we trust them?" said Ma Jun of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs. "When environmental violations become public knowledge, they should not use commercial confidentiality as an excuse for silence. This is different from other leading brands."

Hewlett Packard, British Telecom, Samsung, Sony, Siemens and Alcatel were credited as being the most responsive to third-party inquiries about alleged environmental violations.

"Apple can say it is completely ‘green’ because it is a brand with no factory, but if it doesn’t manage its supply chain, these are just empty words," said Ma Jun of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs. "Far from being the best on planet, it is bottom among 29 IT brands. Apple should be a leader. If it can move on this, it can change the whole industry."

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