Chinese Groups Reveal Apple Suppliers’ Dirty Practices

Apple’s Chinese suppliers are reportedly producing high levels of pollution, creating a risk for residents

Chinese environmental groups are stepping up their campaign against Apple, claiming that pollution from some of Apple’s suppliers is causing serious damage to people’s health and the environment.

In a report published yesterday, a group including Friends of Nature and the Institute of Public and Environment Affairs highlighted “shocking levels” of environmental pollution at companies such as Meiko Electronics and Foxconn, which manufacture components for Apple’s iconic iPhone, iPad and Mac devices.

Health and environment implications

In the Chinese city of Kunshan, for example, accessory manufacturer Kaedar Electronics and printed circuit board maker Unimicron have allegedly been discharging waste water and harmful gas from their plants, causing nearby residents to worry about their health.

Foxconn – which has recently been the subject of media attention due to the high suicide rate at the company’s factories, and an explosion at its iPad factory which killed three people – is also accused of emitting air pollution that contains irritants. Residents complained that the gases had caused them headaches and nausea, and many expressed concern regarding the possible damage to their children’s health.

Meanwhile, Meiko Electronics, a Japanese company that builds printed circuit boards, was found to have polluted a lake in the Chinese city of Wuhan with heavy metals, including copper and nickel, according to tests carried out by the environmental groups in April. The lake directly feeds into the Yangtze River.

The report calls on Apple to take responsibility for pollution in its supply chain, claiming that other IT brands have pushed to recognise and resolve these problems. It cites “various sources” as saying that Apple is deeply involved in supply chain management and has access to a large number of IT supplier violation records, so ignorance is no excuse.

It also calls on consumers to express their wishes that Apple should change and improve the environmental management in its supply chain.

Social responsibility

The report, entitled ‘The Other Side of Apple II’ is based on a five-month investigation into electronic suppliers that are believed to be used by Apple. The first report was published in January, but the environmental groups claim that Apple has systematically failed to respond to all queries regarding its alleged supply chain environmental violations.

Apple issued the following statement to eWEEK Europe, in response to the report: “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.”

An Apple spokesperson also drew our attention to the company’s ‘Supplier Responsibility‘ 2010 progress report (pdf), which found that 44 of its supplier facilities lacked a complete environmental impact assessment. Apple required these facilities to conduct an assessment of their entire facility and file it with the government for approval.

Apple has been targeted by environmental groups before, namely Greenpeace, over its use of non-renewable fuels to power its iDataCenter in North Carolina. Greenpeace said this indicates a “lack of a corporate commitment to clean energy supply” for its cloud operations.

Despite the criticism, however, Apple has become more transparent about the environmental footprint and operational performance of its products. The company reported a significant increase in the amount of clean energy it has purchased for its operations in the past two years and has said that it will continue to look for sources of renewable energy and buy green power wherever it can be found.