Green group accuses Apple of lax supplier oversight

HONG KONG Thu Jan 20, 2011 5:57am EST

Customers queue to buy the iPad at an Apple flagship store on a rainy day in Beijing, September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

Customers queue to buy the iPad at an Apple flagship store on a rainy day in Beijing, September 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic

HONG KONG (Reuters) - iPhone maker Apple was criticized by Chinese green groups for lax corporate oversight of its suppliers in China, leading to poor environmental and work safety standards that poisoned dozens of factory workers.

Apple, which announced blockbuster profits and a dazzling outlook for iPhone and iPad sales earlier this week, continues to be dogged by accusations of aggressive pricing and secretive supply chain management in Chinese factories where they now assemble most of their products.

"We've found that Apple isn't honoring its commitment in ensuring its supply chain's work safety and environmental responsibility and giving dignity and respect to the workers," said Ma Jun, of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) which published a detailed report on Apple supply chain malpractice Thursday, in conjunction with other green groups.

"(Apple) only care about the price and quality (of their products) and not the environmental and social responsibility issues. In some ways they drive the suppliers to cut corners to win their contracts," Ma said.

Apple said it had a rigorous auditing regime and all its suppliers were monitored and investigated regularly.

"Our supplier responsibility reports document the progress of our extensive auditing program since 2006," an Apple spokeswoman said.

FOXCONN SUICIDES

Last year, Apple's main China supplier Foxconn was hit by over a dozen worker suicides that critics blamed on harsh factory conditions and a militaristic culture. Apple's CEO Steve Jobs has denied the allegations, saying that Foxconn is not a sweatshop.

Many Western multinationals -- including toymaker Mattel which suffered a toxic lead paint scandal in 2007 -- have struggled to regulate product quality across scores of suppliers in knotted Chinese supply chains, but the report said Apple's standards fell far short of its status as a leading global brand.

"It's not easy to control (the supply chain) but peer brands are doing a lot more (than Apple) to deal with this," said Ma.

The nine-month survey "The other face of Apple" found that at least 49 factory workers in eastern China working in factories assembling products for Apple, had fallen ill.

Lianjian Technology in the eastern city of Suzhou which the green group claims is one of Apple's major touchscreen suppliers, was accused of using N-Hexane, a toxic solvent, to clean touch screens, leading to at least 47 factory workers being poisoned.

Another company named by the green group as a user of N-Hexane was Taiwan-based touchscreen chip maker Wintek. A Wintek spokesman said it had stopped using the chemical and all its employees had recovered.

"Apple's lack of responsiveness eventually made us quite shocked. It's the whole complacency that it doesn't have to be accountable to the NGOs, to the communities, even to the poisoned workers," Ma told Reuters.

(Reporting by James Pomfret and Kelvin Soh; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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