Announcing Bad Apple: End Smartphone Sweatshops!
Our new campaign, Bad Apple: End Smartphone Sweatshops, is working to bring light to the issue of unjust labor conditions in electronics factories in China, particularly regarding chemical use and worker health and safety.
Roughly 75% of the world’s population now has a cell phone, and demand for newer, smarter, and cheaper gadgets is on the rise. Smartphones, like many electronics, are made in factories where workers regularly do not have adequate protective gear or training for handling toxic substances. Exposure to dangerous chemicals can lead to cancer, leukemia, nerve damage, liver and kidney failure, and reproductive health issues, depending on the chemical and level of exposure.
There are thousands of chemicals that could be used in electronics manufacturing process—some are known carcinogens and others are largely untested. Protective gear and rigorous trainings on safe handling are needed but rarely enforced, and often problems of exposure are not detected until workers are already sick. In the case of benzene, there are suitable and safer alternatives that are only slightly more expensive. Chemicals known to be harmful to human health should be banned and for chemicals with unknown toxicity, more testing is required.
Despite Apple’s Code of Conduct that prohibits the handling of dangerous chemicals without training or protective gear, extensive problems persist. Recent cases in Apple supplier factories have occurred in which workers have contracted leukemia due to benzene exposure, nerve-damage due to n-hexane exposure, and skin conditions due to handling acidic chemicals without protection.
Apple is the pioneers in the smartphone industry, and is the self-proclaimed leader on corporate social responsibility. As a massive global company, Apple has the power to improve working conditions throughout the electronics-manufacturing sector by influencing both its suppliers and its competitors. There are safer alternatives to the most dangerous chemicals available and Apple can take the lead in using them until it becomes an industry norm to use chemicals that are not endangering workers.
Apple is also highly profitable, earning $37 billion in profits in 2013 in one year. On average, Apple’s profit margins on iPhones are close to 40 percent, higher than any of Apple’s competitors. Industry experts have estimated that Apple could remove dangerous chemicals from its supply chain for less than $1 per phone.
Eliminating benzene and other chemicals known to be harmful to human health from Apple’s supply chain would help prevent more workers from losing their lives or livelihoods themselves because of occupational illnesses from making iPhones.