Apple criticized in Chinese environmental report

Scoring last among 29 tech firms in report by Chinese environmental groups, Apple is rebuked for lack of responsiveness to health and safety conditions at factories that make its components.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Apple has been accused by a coalition of 36 Chinese environmental groups of ignoring hazardous and unhealthy conditions at the factories in China where its components are assembled.

Released yesterday by the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs (IPE), the report "The Other Side of Apple" ranked the iPhone maker dead last among 29 other tech companies for their responsiveness to health and environmental concerns in China.

Specifically, the report claims that Apple ignored concerns at Wintek, a factory that makes touch screens for the iPhone and iPad as well as components for other companies. Wintek came under fire in 2009 when plant workers were exposed to n-hexane poisoning. A number of workers went on strike and later sued Wintek, which eventually removed the toxic substance from use at its factories.

Wintek workers also appealed directly to Apple at the time, according to a 2009 report from AppleInsider. But it's unclear if Apple has even acknowledged Wintek as a supplier.

IPE Director Ma Jun told Bloomberg News in a phone interview that Apple refused to confirm that suspected polluters were among its suppliers and avoided taking responsibility for environmental problems related to its products.

Apple was also criticized in the report for its response to the worker suicides at the Foxconn plant last year. Though Apple at the time said it had contacted Foxconn management regarding the incidents, the report gives the impression that the company's response was rather cavalier, citing a e-mail from CEO Steve Jobs that reportedly read: "Although every suicide is tragic, Foxconn's suicide rate is well below the China average. We are all over this."

The IPE added that Apple allegedly didn't answer requests for information about some of its more problematic suppliers, another issue that put the company at the bottom of its list.

"We originally thought that Apple, as a corporate citizen, would take a leadership role, but now we feel they ended up as the most obstructive," Ma told Bloomberg.

We've reached out to both Apple and the IPE for comment on the report and will update the story if we hear back from them.

On a more positive side, British Telecommunications, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Sanyo, and Sony were the top five tech players lauded in the report for their environmental responsiveness.