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Tuesday, Aug 02, 2011 12:50pm
Apple neglecting workers, pollution in China, says FP
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."