Apple Under The Gun from Chinese Green Groups Over Supply Chain Pollution


Photo by ericmcgragor via Flickr CC

When we stated our seven ideas we want Tim Cook to focus on as the new leader of Apple, we included detailed tracking and transparency of the environmental footprint of the company for every product. We, of course, aren't the only once concerned with the impact of Apple's supply chain. Five Chinese environmental NGOs published the findings of a seven-month study, showing that Apple has a lot of clean-up work to do on its supply chain. The coalition says that they put pressure on the consumer electronics giant over pollution caused by manufacturers in its supply chain, but that the claims have yet to be addressed. Supply Chain Companies Causing Serious Pollution
China Dialogue reports on the investigation done by the coalition, titled The Other Side of Apple II - Pollution Spreads through Apple's Supply Chain, which "includes 10 on-site investigations of suppliers, suspected suppliers and other links in the supply chain. These include: Meiko Electronics of Guangzhou, Meiko Electronics of Wuhan, Kaedar Electronics and Unimicron, Foxconn of Taiyuan, Ibiden Electronics of Beijing and Shenzhen Municipal Hazardous Waste Treatment Station."

In a report published this last January, the coalition stated that as many as 27 suppliers to Apple are guilty of pollution problems, including producing huge quantities of waste that are not properly handled, leading to complaints from local communities. The list of complaints include polluted water flowing directly to the Yangtze River, water so contaminated it is not fit for any purpose, foul-smelling gasses so strong they even wake people up at night and cause headaches and nosebleeds, a village of 50 residents next to a factory of which nine people have developed cancer, and of course the infamous explosion at a Foxconn plant that killed three this past May.

Apple Staying Silent About Suppliers And Pollution Problems
Financial Times writes, "Although Apple does not directly manufacture anything itself and does not disclose, with very few exceptions, the names of its suppliers, the Chinese environmental groups say they used public information and court documents to form a list of more than 20 Apple suppliers with environmental violations to their name. These suppliers also work for other companies."

China Dialogue reports:

The investigators claim that despite having found environmental problems at as many as 27 suspected Apple suppliers in this and the previous report, Apple in its 2011 Supplier Responsibility Report did not respond to a single pollution incident among the 36 core violations it listed. Its only response to questions from environmental groups was its admission that Wintek, where workers suffered n-hexane poisoning, was a supplier. The report accuses Apple of failing to respond openly to questions and make its supplier information public. It argues that while this type of behaviour used to be standard among international companies - who chose suppliers on price and could ignore environmental performance, often claiming they had little information to rely on - brands have changed as greater transparency in China means that data on environmental breaches by companies is much more easily available. Many companies now use that information to prevent pollution being caused by their global manufacturing and procurement.

Apple has a policy of non-disclosure of supplier information, however it is clear that there are serious problems to be addressed by the company regarding companies it supports and relies upon for producing the ubiquitous Apple gadgets. Apple, as all electronics manufacturers, have a responsibility to the people who not only use their products, but are affected by them. With iPads ruling as much as 74% of the booming tablet market and iPhones rolling off shelves by the millions, not to mention laptops and desktop computers, Apple has a responsibility to ensure that its manufacturing is safe for those who have to live near the plants and work in them. The company also has a responsibility for their products through end of life, to reduce harm done by e-waste dumps. The coalition of green groups working on this report are doing an important job of putting pressure on Apple to do the right, responsible, ethical thing. And hopefully as goes Apple, so goes the rest of the consumer electronics industry.

The efforts of environmental groups have been effective with other companies, including Nokia which uses publicly available data to prevent pollution in their supply chain. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also instills consumer trust in Nokia as a company. Apple is closely involved in its supply chain, according to the report, so why is it not stepping up? Placing profits over the planet and people is not a good enough excuse.

Financial Times quotes Carolyn Wu, an Apple spokeswoman, saying, "Apple is committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base. 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."

However, the recent report makes it difficult to put much trust in this statement.

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Tags: Apple Inc | China | Corporate Responsibility | Pollution

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