The Dark Side of Apple’s Supply Chain

As surprising as it may seem (or not) there are problems with Apple’s suppliers in China, namely that many are not exactly environmentally friendly citizens.

A coalition of environmental organizations cited “pollution and poisoning” problems in Apple’s China supply chain in two reports on the “Other Side of Apple.” In the second report, this group—Friends of Nature, Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, Green Beagle, Envirofriends and the Green Stone Environmental Action Network—says that Apple “has systematically failed to respond to all queries regarding their supply chain environmental violations.”

Among the allegations in the report:

– Meiko Electronics plant in Guangzhou, a suspected PCB supplier to Apple Inc., was found in violation of environmental rules 10 times within a few months, after what the report calls schemes “to conceal their environmental violations.”

– Meiko’s plant in Wuhan was found to be discharging heavy metals directly into Nantaizi Lake; copper content in a sediment sample was found to be 56 to 193 times of that in the sediment in other lakes.

– Two companies in Kunshan, Kaedar Electronics and Unimicron Electronics “have been subject to repeated complaints from local residents due to their emissions discharges.” A nearby village has experienced a “phenomenal rise” in cases of cancer, according to the report.

– Foxconn Electronics, a huge supplier for many electronics companies (and working conditions that literally drive employees to suicide), “is involved in serious pollution resulting from its metal surface processing,” the report says. Local residents have filed numerous complaints against Foxconn’s irritant gases. “The local government has called on the company to control its pollutant discharge many times, but the pollution that severely affects the quality of life for the residents has yet to be resolved.”

The investigation also found that the volume of hazardous waste produced by suspected Apple suppliers is really large and is not disposed of properly. “Each day, Ibiden Electronics Beijing Company produces several dozen tons of hazardous waste containing heavy metals, copper, nickel and cyanide.” Even though there are strict disclosure requirements for waste transport, manifests in many cases they are left blank and “the exact whereabouts of the heavy metal sludge was not clear.”

In all the coalition has uncovered nearly 30 suspected Apple suppliers that have environmental problems.

The report says there is no way to know if Apple is aware of the problems or if it has pushed its suppliers to resolve the issues.

Despite Apple’s “seemingly rigorous audits, pollution is still expanding and spreading along with the supply chain.”

As for an Apple response, the report quotes that Apple said, “It is our long-term policy not to disclose supplier information.”

The report continues that a large number of IT supplier violation records have been publicized, while Apple “chooses not to face such information and continues to use these companies as suppliers.”

Is Apple just another huge company that cuts environmental corners? If even a portion of the coalition’s charges are accurate, Apple should respond forthrightly, instead of using evasive tactics that include the “policy” cloak of supplier confidentiality.

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by