A coalition of environmental groups ranks Apple dead last in terms of pollution and workplace safety among a list of multinational technology corporations operating in China. Apple's poor performance in the rankings is based in part on the company's refusal to cooperate with the study. In essence these rankings measure the transparency of supply chains as much as anything else.
The Financial Times and others quote Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a leading Chinese NGO and the main author of the report, as saying: “Apple behaved differently from the other big brands and seemed totally complacent and unresponsive.”
The Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs is a coalition of 36 environmental groups in China. ChinaCSR reports,"since its founding in May 2006, the IPE has developed two pollution databases to monitor corporate environmental performance and to facilitate public participation in environmental governance." The group stands as a symbol of nascent public awareness and civic engagement on environmental issues in China.
In the rankings, the S-companies seemed to do well: Samsung, Sony, and Siemens scored at the top of the list. Meanwhile, Nokia, LG, and Ericsson were criticized along with Apple.
One reason Apple fared particularly poorly, and possibly one reason Apple was unresponsive, is the case of employee poisoning at Apple contractor Wintek, based in Taiwan. In that case as many as 60 workers were poisoned by a chemical used to clean LCD touchscreens like those on iPhones and iPads. The case was widely publicized in Chinese media, and 44 employees have sued Apple for lingering debilitating illnesses. They say Apple has yet to respond to their claims. The Guardian reports that while other firms have responded to the IPE rankings, Apple remains silent.
This is not the first disappointing eco-news regarding Apple. Last year the company opted out of a British plan to rank cell phones on environmental criteria, presumably because the iPhone would have done poorly.
One defense for Apple in this ranking is that they themselves aren't the ones operating unsafe workplaces or polluting factories because Apple uses subcontracts in China like Wintek. That's no excuse. Even if subcontractors themselves subcontract to other suppliers, as is common with many companies operating in China, it is still no excuse. Apple, like any multinational company, has an ethical responsibility to institute rigorous safety standards, transparent auditing practices, and active oversight from end to end of its supply chain. That is the aim of reports like this one from the IPE, but reforming supply chains in China will be a long, hard slog.