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March 13, 2014 / Elizabeth

Apple responds to campaign, but falls short of progress

Co-authored by Kevin Slaten, China Labor Watch & Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America

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Yesterday in partnership with Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour and the activism arm of the Nation, Green America and China Labor Watch launched a petition to Apple to improve worker health and safety in the factories that make Apple products.

Apple was quick to respond to our campaign, in a statement shared with Computer World, however, their statement falls far short of meeting the demands of the campaign.  

First, we are calling for the elimination of the most dangerous chemicals used to make Apple products. Two dangerous chemicals known to be used by Apple include benzene and n-hexane, but there are more.  Thousands of chemicals can be involved in making one electronic device, many of which are newly developed and not sufficiently tested. Apple does not disclose the list of chemicals used at its supplier factories.  Transparency will be the first step in eliminating the most dangerous chemicals, removing them is next.

Apple pointed out it has led the industry in removing other dangerous chemicals from its products, but its statement did not include benzene or n-hexane. Nor did it indicate that Apple had removed toxic chemicals from the processes of making the parts–simply the final products themselves.

In cases where workers are still exposed to dangerous chemicals, workers must be provided with proper training and protective gear. In China, the legal minimum requirement for health and safety training is 24 hours. Apple’s new EHS training program provides no evidence that trainings will be enforced for workers at supplier factories, only that management will be trained. Additionally, China Labor Watch has issued reports revealing that at one of Apple’s main assembly factories, safety trainings were sometimes only 10 minutes long.

Secondly, we are calling on Apple to ensure that all workers who have been injured are receiving appropriate care. At present, Apple has no mechanism to track worker health and safety at its supplier factories, and therefore has no idea of the pervasiveness of occupational illnesses.  Tracking will be the first step, but to be a leader, Apple should ensure that any worker who has become ill making iPhones is receiving proper diagnosis, can access appropriate care, and can afford the care he or she needs.  The current process for workers to receive occupational diagnosis and access treatment is bureaucratic, time-consuming, and the care is not sufficient. Apple needs to step in to expedite this process.  For workers that have already become ill, sometimes gravely, time is of the essence.

It’s true that Apple has led in its industry, which is why Apple can and should be the first tech company to take this next step for workers.

Additional reforms Apple should take to protect the workers making its products include:

  • Disclose the chemicals used in products and to make products at supplier and assembly factories, and a mitigation plan for all chemicals considered to be dangerous
  • Disclose incidences of worker injuries and illness
  • Require all supplier and assembly factories to conduct pre-hire and post-resignation health exams, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not tested for pregnancy or discriminated against for other diseases like hepatitis B or HIV.
  • Disclose all manager safety trainings (including the training content), audit results, inspection results, and steps it took to resolve problems. (Including locations of inspections.)
  • Disclose inspection/audit findings to the public

Until this information is public, it’s difficult for consumers to trust what Apple says it is doing. Greater transparency is the first step towards worker safety, and it must be followed by action.

People interested in joining us to push Apple to protect workers and move towards true sustainable manufacturing should sign our petition to the Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook.>>

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