Apple opens talks about suppliers' 'pollution'

Updated: 2011-11-16 07:46

By Zhou Wenting (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

BEIJING - Even though Ma Danni has wanted an iPhone for quite some time, she says she now plans to postpone that long-planned purchase.

The reason for her hesitation? She recently learned that the device, produced by the technology giant Apple Inc, is made from components coming from suppliers suspected of releasing large amounts of pollutants.

"It's hard for me to give up the fancy designs and functions of Apple products," said the 34-year-old Beijing resident. "But I'm going to give the company some time for it to repair the harm it has done to the environment before I buy an Apple product."

For nearly two years, five Chinese environmental organizations have worked together to help make sure electronics companies' supply chains are managed with an eye toward protecting the environment and to encourage consumers to choose "green" products.

Apple, long the target of critics who contend its suppliers are harming the environment and people's health, met with delegates from the five environmental groups on Tuesday. The occasion let the company discuss its commitment to containing pollutants being released by its suppliers.

"We appreciate the large step Apple took away from dodging its duty and toward attaching importance to this issue," said Feng Yongfeng, founder of the Beijing-based Green Beagle, one of the five environmental organizations.

"We expect to see the more sophisticated management that Apple has said it will make its suppliers subject to," said Li Bo, executive director of Friends of Nature, another advocate group.

"And we hope the company will play a role in world leadership and assume its social responsibilities."

Apple refused to disclose specifics about the meeting, only reasserting its commitment to "maintaining the highest standards for social responsibility throughout its supply chain".

On Aug 31, the five environmental organizations released a report on the information-technology industry's releases of heavy metals pollution. The report, the fifth of its kind to be assembled since 2010, said attempts have been made to conceal discharges of toxic materials from what are believed to be Apple's mainland suppliers. It also calls on the company to take steps to curb pollution.

The same day, Apple proposed arranging a conference call to discuss the environmentalists' findings.

"It was a favorable turn," Li said. "Apple had been evading the problem for nearly two years."

The report's findings were based on 7 months of field investigations and research.

Inspectors with the environmental organizations visited 22 plants that are believed to be suppliers of Apple and blamed them for releasing heavy metal sludge, toxic gas and large amounts of other pollutants.

Apple declined to identify its suppliers or give other details about them.

The company was not the sole target of the groups. This year, 29 companies responded to the organizations' complaints about pollution in their supply chains, but Apple is the only that is believed to have been persistently evasive.

"The long-awaited talk finally comes out today," said Li Li, head of Envirofriends, another organization in the alliance.

Meanwhile, Apple and the groups have expressed different opinions about how transparent the company's supply chain should be.

Several delegates from the environmental groups said Apple intends to carry on that work in accordance with its own plans and at its own pace and does not want to tell outsiders what it is doing.

"Apple showed us its marvelous idea of managing its supply chains," Li Li said. "But if it doesn't disclose information about its suppliers, and the time and steps that will be taken to put this into effect, how can the public oversee any of this?"

The environmental groups said they will keep encouraging the company to disclose environmental information about its supply chains and investigate the information-technology industry's work to protect the environment.

"We believe Apple's consumers won't accept the fact that their faddish gadgets are paid for by poisoning the environment, harming communities and sacrificing employee rights," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.