Pollution Report Trashes Apple's Chinese Suppliers
A group of environmental organizations issued a report Thursday reprimanding Apple for the pollution allegedly caused by the company's Chinese suppliers. "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," Apple's Steve Dowling said in response to the report.
09/02/11 5:00 AM PT
Apple's Chinese component suppliers were accused Thursday by a coalition of Chinese environmental groups of discharging waste and toxic metals into the communities where they're located and threatening the public health of the people living in them.
"The large volume of discharge in Apple's supply chain greatly endangers the public's health and safety," the coalition stated in a 46-page report, "The Other Side of Apple II: Pollution Spreads Through Apple's Supply Chain."
The first "Other Side of Apple" report was published in January and, according to the coalition, was largely ignored by Apple.
"Apple has systematically failed to respond to all queries regarding their supply chain environmental violations" in the first report, the coalition stated.
"Through five months of research and field investigations, we have found that the pollution discharge from this (US)$300 billon dollar company has been expanding and spreading throughout its supply chain and has been seriously encroaching on local communities and their surrounding environments," the coalition's report reads.
Committed to Highest Standards
Apple is committed to the highest standards across its supply chain, the company countered.
"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," Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling told MacNewsWorld.
Apple holds its suppliers to a code of responsibility, Dowling explained. The code states that environmental considerations are an integral part of the company's business practices, and it requires suppliers to commit to reducing the environmental impact of their designs, manufacturing processes, and waste emissions.
To ensure that suppliers are complying with its code, Apple spot audits its suppliers. In 2010, it audited 127 facilities and found 80 percent of them in compliance with the company's recommended environmental practices.
The report by the Chinese environmental coalition, however, questioned the effectiveness of the Apple auditing program. It noted that its investigations uncovered more than 27 suspected suppliers to Apple that have had environmental problems. Yet Apple's audits have apparently failed to uncover those problems.
Apple's penchant for secrecy is preventing the public from properly evaluating the company's efforts to make its suppliers toe an environmental line, the coalition argued. "The public has no way of knowing if Apple is even aware of these problems," the report states. "Again, the public has no way of knowing if Apple has pushed their suppliers to resolve these issues."
"[D]espite Apple's seemingly rigorous audits, pollution is still expanding and spreading along with the supply chain," it added.
Although Apple's love affair with secrecy hasn't changed over the years, it's attitude toward the environment has, according to Casey Harrell, an IT analyst with Greenpeace in San Francisco.
"We don't always see eye-to-eye with Apple," he told MacNewsWorld, "but I can say without a doubt that Apple has improved on many environmental issues over the past five years."
"A lot of the Mac fan base cares about these issues," he observed. "It's not as if it doesn't resonate with them. They're buying a premium product. They expect premium quality across the board."
The report also cited an explosion on a production line at one Apple's largest suppliers, Foxconn in Chengdu, China. The incident cost three workers their lives and injured 15 others. An investigation of the event revealed that the company had cut corners to rush iPad 2 components into production.
"For this kind of company to have passed an audit led by Apple's vice president and then go on to win the main contracts for Apple's global iPad market, it must surely leave one to question Apple's auditing process," the report states.
Over the past 16 months, the report claims, the coalition has worked with 29 high-tech brands to clean up the environmental problems being created by their Chinese suppliers. But Apple remains "a special case."
Even when faced with specific allegations regarding its suppliers, the report states, the company refuses to provide answers and insists its long-term policy is not to disclose supplier information.
Since a large number of the suppliers Apple refuses to name as its own have already been identified as violators of environmental law, the report reasons, the company's continued use of the suppliers can only be seen as a deliberate refusal of responsibility.
"Apple has already made a choice," the report asserts, "to stand on the wrong side, to take advantage of the loopholes in developing countries' environmental management systems, and to be closely associated with polluting factories so that it can continue to grab their own super profits, at the expense of the environment and communities, becoming a barrier in China's path towards pollution reduction."