Friday, January 21, 2011

The Other Side of Apple (and not the one you're gonna like..)

This is the title of a report released yesterday by the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs (IPE), an independent Beijing-based non-profit organization. In the report, Apple is accused of "ignoring hazardous and unhealthy conditions at the factories in China where its components are assembled."

The report is not just about Apple. It outlines findings from a group of 36 non-governmental organizations into environmental and health practices among technology companies that are operating in China. Out of the 29 global technology companies that were ranked, Apple was ranked last.

Apple was not the only company the report cited as failing to act or respond to environmental and social concerns - Nokia, LG, SingTel, Sony, and Ericsson also fared poorly in the survey. But the groups said Apple was the worst, for "dodging" questions from the public and requests from environmental groups for investigations.

This was a bit of a surprise for the authors. “We originally thought that Apple, as a corporate citizen, would take a leadership role, but now we feel they ended up as the most obstructive,” Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs said in a phone interview to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Examples? Here's one: "among the examples cited in the report is Wintek Corp. which in 2009 is alleged to have used poisonous chemicals in the production of screens for Apple [touch screens for the iPhone and iPad] that resulted in workers being hospitalized for nerve damage. In a regulatory filing in May, Wintek said it stopped using the chemical, N-Hexane, and all workers were getting adequate treatment. Apple has not acknowledged Wintek as a supplier, Ma said."

And what does Apple say in response? “Apple has had an extensive supplier auditing program since 2006 and we have lots of information available through our website,” said Jill Tan, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Apple.

The issues Apple has with its suppliers as well as its limited willingness at best to address them are not new to those who followed the wave of worker suicides last year at Foxconn, Apple's primary China supplier, last year. Again and again we see that although Apple seems to be generally transparent and progressive in their approach to social responsibility (see Apple's Supplier Responsibility Report), they are not willing to answer tough questions and be fully transparent when it comes to criticism on their operations.

My guestimation is that it is connected to Apple's (and Steve Job's) general lack of willingness to acknowledge that they might do something that is not perfect or god forbidden wrong, no matter what the issue is. This sort of hubris is definitely not the culture you would expect from an innovative and creative company like Apple.

And if you think Apple should be excused because all the companies behave this way - think again. BT and HP, for example, ranked highly in IPE’s list of technology companies because they have responded to environmental problems and worked with suppliers to ensure better compliance, according to Ma.

You can learn more about the report from this video published by IPE:

More articles on this issue:

Is the iPad manufactured at a modern sweatshop?
Can the iPad be "green" if it is manufactured in a sweatshop?

Raz @ Eco-Libris

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