Apple slammed over Chinese supply chain record

Chinese NGOs accuses technology giant of being secretive and evasive
January 22, 2011
Apple slammed in NGO China report
In a new report released by the Green Choice Alliance, a coalition of environmental NGOs in China, Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) has been accused of being in serious breach of its own commitment to supplier responsibility.The report contains case studies of 11 companies, known to be or suspected of being, in Apple's supply chain where there have been serious health and safety, environmental and labor rights violations between 2008 and 2010.

The new document is the fourth in a series of investigative reports issued by the alliance since April 2010, prompted by an alarming rise in incident of heavy metal pollution and poisoning within the supply chain of local and international IT companies in China.

In its report the Green Choice Alliance says: "Behind their stylish image, Apple products have a side that many do not know about - pollution and poison. This side is hidden deep within the company's secretive supply chain, out of view from the public."

Apart from the well know spate of suicides and attempted suicides at Foxconn, the most harrowing cases involved the use of n-hexane, a neurotoxin, to clean touch screens used in Apple's iPods and iPhones.

This practice - introduced because n-hexane evaporates faster than conventional alcohol cleaner and therefore enables greater productivity - made heavily exposed workers seriously ill. Some now face a long recovery process, if not life-time disability.

According to the AFP News Agency, a Hong Kong-based spokesperson for Apple rejected the claims made in the report, saying the company "has a vigorous auditing program that investigates suppliers and other parts of the business chain. We audit throughout... We actually have had an extensive auditing program since 2006".

The latest report is highly critical of the culture of secrecy that shrouds Apple's supply chain operations. It documents Apple's repeated stonewalling of local and foreign NGOs that tried to get a response out of the company between April 2009 and January 2010 regarding health, environmental and labor issues with it contractors and subcontractors in China.

Apple is among 29 major local and international IT brands with substantial supply chains in China that have been investigated by the Green Choice Alliance. Its new report says that many of the companies with violations for exceeding pollution standards are an important part of the supply chain for large IT brands.

The alliance notes that as large number of brands had similar problems in their supply chain, Apple's is not an isolated case and that problems are ubiquitous throughout the IT industry. It says LG, SingTel, Sony and Ericsson also failed to provide adequate response to inquiries by alliance members, while commending HP, BT, Alcatel-Lucent, Vodafone, Samsung, Toshiba, Sharp and Hitachi for taking a more transparent approach.

"Other IT brands are not perfect, just as Apple is not perfect. But the major difference between Apple and other IT brands is that none of the others were as evasive and resistant. Instead, some leading IT brands have taken positive steps to promote transformation of suppliers, generating the much-needed motivation for pollution control," says the new report.

The alliance says that, having published three investigative reports during 2010, the level of communication between participating NGOs and most IT brands has improved markedly.

"Obviously, in comparison with their IT peer brands, Apple's closed environment and social responsibility supply chain management system lacks basic transparency, let alone being publicly responsible. In terms of this aspect they occupy the last place of all 29 IT brands."