Nov 16, 2011 08:26 PM

Apple Auditing Supply Plants for Pollution

For the past year, the technology giant Apple continuously brushed off accusations of environmental violations along its Chinese supply chain, even as dozens of Chinese environmental groups coalesced into a coalition to scrutinize the technology giant.

Now, the company says it is looking into pollution along its supply line, and has promised to improve environmental standards for future parts manufacturers.

In a three-hour meeting with Chinese environmental groups on November 15, the technology company said it is working with third-party bodies to audit 15 of its suppliers in China. 11 of the 15 reviews have been completed, with the remaining four "on the road," the company said.

Apple declined to specify which supply firms were under review or what specific environmental problems the audits have thus far uncovered. The company said it has invested more than 100 million yuan towards pollution control, and that it plans to edit and combine the audit results into a new set of standards for suppliers.

Apple's promise to improve environmental conditions along its Chinese supply chain came in response to a series of reports put out by Chinese environmental non-government organizations this year, which alleged pollution and labor rights violations at 27 plants. The company previously said it was committed to "the highest standards of social responsibility" along its supply line, when the latest report alleging pollution came out in August.

As of November 16, the company has declined all Chinese media inquiries, and Caixin calls to Apple's press office went unanswered. China National Radio broke the story November 15, citing various Chinese environmental group representatives who attended the meeting.

Five Chinese environmental NGOs attended the meeting, including the EnviroFriends Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Friends of Nature and the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs. Some, like IPEA director Ma Jun, interpreted the meeting as a positive development, while others said there was much more progress to be made.

"In terms of information transparency, Apple still has not done enough," said Friends of Nature Secretary-General Li Bo to Caixin, following the meeting.

The controversial issue of abuses along Apple's supply chain first came to light in 2009, when reports of employee suicides at the Southern China plant of Apple's manufacturing partner Foxconn emerged.

Then, in January of this year, a coalition of 36 Chinese environmental NGOs published "The Other Side of Apple," saying that 11 suppliers—including Foxconn—were involved in serious violations that broke Apple's commitment to safe and environmentally-responsible working conditions.

The following month, Apple released its 2010 annual report on the employment practices of its suppliers, which revealed that child labor was a growing problem. The number of underage employment cases had increased to 91 in 2010, from 25 in 2009, the audit said.

The content and tone of this article has been changed to reflect the following correction: Apple has not admitted to pollution at 15 of its plants, but instead is in the process of working with third-party auditors to review 15 of its supplier plants.

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