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Apple neglecting workers, pollution in China, says FP

updated 12:50 pm EDT, Tue August 2, 2011

Poisoned workers not being monitored as promised

Apple has been operating irresponsibly in China, both in terms of labor and the environment, Foreign Policy suggests. A new report focuses on poisoning at a Wintek factory, where the Apple supplier began cleaning iPhone screens with an agent containing n-hexane. Exposure to the chemical triggered nerve damage in 137 workers, such as Jia Jingchuan, profiled by FP. Jia ended up hospitalized for 10 months starting in August 2009.

While Wintek has covered initial hospital costs in cases like Jia's, officially spending about $1.5 million in worker compensation, Jia claims that Wintek subsequently put pressure on him and his peers to resign from the company and sign liability release forms so that it would no longer have to pay future healthcare costs. Wintek is denying the accusation.

In June a doctor gave Jia little chance of recovering from symptoms of the nerve damage, including numbness, weakness, dizziness and extreme sensitivity to temperature changes. As of July, Jia said he was unemployed, caring for a one-year-old daughter, burdened by growing medical bills and possibly too sick to work again.

In response an Apple spokeswoman is referring only to the company's 2011 Supplier Responsibility Report, which states that it "required Wintek to stop using n-hexane and to provide evidence that they had removed the chemical from their production lines." Apple goes on to claim that it "has verified that all affected workers have been treated successfully, and we continue to monitor their medical reports until full recuperation." Although use of n-hexane has stopped, FP's investigation suggests that Apple is not monitoring long-term health problems.

Apple suppliers have been accused of a number of labor and environmental standards violations, such as allowing chemicals to leach out into fields, and maintaining grueling, sweatshop-like conditions in the case of Hon Hai, better known as Foxconn. A coalition of 36 Chinese NGOs called the Green Choice Alliance notes that in a January survey, Apple ranked last in a group of 29 companies in terms of responding to questions about either safety conditions or pollution. A GCA leader, Ma Jun, is said to have met with Jia and helped write a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs about both working conditions and medical compensation. No response was received, even after a second letter.

Ma complains that Apple is different from other corporations in that it has fought attempts at checking whether companies breaking standards are Apple suppliers. "They said, it's our long-term policy not to disclose our supply chain," he explains. "So no one can make any public scrutiny? No one can really know what is really happening?" A supply chain consultant based in Shanghai, Richard Brubaker, observes that Apple has "billions in reserves and [continues to work] with suppliers who have a clear record of failure to comply with Apple's own codes of conduct."

by MacNN Staff



  1. vintagegeek

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Polluted China

    China is one big polluted country with barely any regulations. Until they take it upon themselves to clean up their act everyone is at risk.

  1. Zanziboy

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not Apple's Problem

    If Wintek used n-Hexane, it is only because they have regularly used the chemical as part of the manufacturing process for screens they provide to the hundreds of different companies for which Wintek supplies screens. Wintek is $2 billion dollar company operating in Asia and Europe with a number of subsidiaries. Wintek was chosen as a supplier because they (and their subsidiaries) have expertise making LCD displays for phones, notebooks, cameras, clocks, etc. If Wintek decided to use the chemical on their own as a process optimization without Apple's consent, which is the case, then they are solely responsible.

    This is just a thinly veiled attempt for lawyers to grow their profits by expanding the number of companies they can sue for a single issue. Because of legal jurisdiction, it's difficult for American lawyers to profit from mistakes made by foreign companies, so they are now trying to expand their business by soliciting public interest in holding domestic companies responsible for mistakes made by unrelated foreign businesses and overseas governments.

    If lawyers get their way, your local dry cleaner will be singled out if someone dies at the company from which they buy solvent. Your local diner will be sued if someone in Calcutta breaks a leg while making silverware purchased by the restaurant.

  1. lamewing

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple and others

    Apple is probably guilty of this, but so is every other big manufacturing corp in China. These corps want your $$$....what do you expect?

  1. Inkling

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Domestic production

    Apple has yet to learn what Asian automakers such as Toyota and Honda learned in the 1980s, that there are numerous reasons to put factories in the countries where your product sells.

    * It avoids the risks that come with shifts in currency exchange and political unrest.

    * It ensures that the factories meet the sort of standards customers and the media expect.

    * And it ends criticism about taking money and jobs out of the country.

    The move here has worked out quite well for Asian automakers, particularly since they were careful to locate where there's a strong work ethic and where they're not smothered in taxes, regulations, and a high cost of living. Apple should do the same, at the same time taking advantage of the new robots to handle the dull, repetitive work. And just like their new server farm in NC, it gives them a chance to spend their huge cash reserves in a useful way.

  1. glideslope

    Joined: Dec 1969


    So What?

    It's not Apple's issue. They have over a Billion people. Are they really going to miss several thousand who die? What about the onslaught of Robots? Should Apple say no because thousands will be displaced, and most likely die in another chemical laden factory run by a Chinese Entity?

    Give it up.

    Sometimes life sucks. Don't like it, stop buying. Still buying? Then Shut Up.

  1. SockRolid

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Hello Brazil. Apple calling.

    Brazil is now China's #1 trade partner, and Foxconn is building an iPad factory there as I type. Foxconn is a Taiwanese company, not a mainland Chinese company, so this is technically not a counter-revolutionary act against The People.

    Oh, and as for building a factory in the US? Only if it's 99% robotic. American wages are just too high. Even for non-union employees.

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