Apple Cited as Adding to Pollution in China
- By DAVID BARBOZA - The New York Times - September 01, 2011
SHANGHAI - A Chinese environmental group has singled out Apple for criticism, accusing the company’s Chinese suppliers of discharging polluted waste and toxic metals into surrounding communities and threatening public health.
The group, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, released a 46-page report Wednesday documenting what it said was pollution from the dozens of “suspected” Apple suppliers throughout China.
The report, which the group said was based on visits to many of the factories’ regions, said that factories that the group suspected were Apple suppliers often “fail to properly dispose of hazardous waste” and that 27 of the suppliers had been found to have environmental problems.
An Apple spokesman said Wednesday that the company had been aggressively monitoring factories in its supply chain with regular audits.
“Apple is committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply chain,” said Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif.
He added: “We require that our supplier provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made.”
Apple’s products have grown hugely popular in China, which already has the world’s busiest Apple stores. But the company has also been dogged by challenges here, though Apple does not typically disclose its list of suppliers.
Last year, one of Apple’s biggest suppliers was hit by a wave of worker suicides at several of its mainland Chinese facilities. And in May, an explosion and fire at a plant that made Apple products killed two people and injured more than a dozen in the city of Chengdu, in southwest China.
Also earlier this year, Apple acknowledged that 137 workers at a Chinese factory near the city of Suzhou had been seriously injured by a toxic chemical used in making the signature slick glass screens of the iPhone.
But Apple is hardly the only nation-less company facing criticism over its Chinese supply chain. In recent years, dozens of other nation-less corporations, or multinationals have been accused of using Chinese factories that employed child labor, violated the country’s labor laws and fouled its waterways.
Supply chain experts say brand-name companies generally do a better job of monitoring and auditing their suppliers than smaller companies in China.
But most experts agree that while conditions have improved at many work sites, labor violations and the discharge of toxic waste remain major problems.
Apple said it carried out its own regular audits of supplier factories. It issues a report each year detailing problems it faced and explaining its monitoring practices and how it induces suppliers to correct violations within 90 days.
In many cases, Apple says that its audits are the first conducted by any company on the facilities, and that many of those involve environmental audits.
But Ma Jun, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said Thursday that Apple had a poor environmental record and that the company had been less responsive to the group’s investigations than other electronics makers.
(Mr. Ma did say, however, that Apple had agreed to discuss the latest report.)
A similar report on Apple was issued by his group last January.
“Apple has made this commitment that it’s a green company,” Mr. Ma said by telephone Thursday. “So how do you fulfill your commitment if you don’t consider you have responsibility in your suppliers’ pollution?”