Apple China Local Environmental Activists See Red

By CWR 28 January, 2011

After more than 10 months, the coalition of NGOs released their 4th IT Report condemning Apple.

4th report singles out Apple; non-cooperative compared to other IT brands.
Apple only care about the price and quality of their product; in some ways they drive the suppliers to cut corners to win their contracts.

On January 20th 2011, after more than ten months of continuous pressure on  the iconic IT company ‘Apple’ to answer questions about pollution issues in its supply chain, a coalition of Chinese environmental NGOs went public, condemning the company for poor environmental and safety standards in its supply chain in China.  China Water Risk has been following the events leading up to the disclosure since April 2010.

“[Apple] only care about the price and quality [of their products] and not the environmental and social responsibility issues. In some ways they drive the suppliers to cut corners to win their contracts” .

Ma Jun, Director of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs on ‘Apple’ , Reuters, January 2011

Since 2006, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) has been monitoring corporate environmental performance through its water and air pollution data bases (,   essentially naming and shaming companies that pollute. To date over 70, 000 violations have been published and IPE has engaged 35,000 companies in addressing pollution problems.

In 2008, IPE led the development of the Green Choice Alliance, a coalition of 34 Chinese NGOs focused on addressing pollution in manufacturers’ supply chains. GCA hopes to achieve this by improving supply chain governance, notably promoting transparency and stakeholder participation in supply chain management systems. Since the beginning of 2010 GCA has been investigating the problem of heavy metal pollution from the IT industry. Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Siemens, LG are among 29 companies who have been questioned about pollution issues in their supply chains.

The coalition reported on Phase I of the investigative study in April 2010.  The report highlights the links between chronic diseases among  local communities and heavy metals pollution within the IT industry. It found that numerous suppliers to major IT companies had repeatedly violated heavy metal discharge standards. The CEOs of the IT companies included in the study were contacted to discern whether they were aware of the pollution problems in their supply chain. Initially just nine companies responded.

In June 2010, the Phase II report ” Study of Heavy Metal Pollution by IT Brand Supply Chain” was released, which further documented the initial contacts and responses with the companies. At this point more than 70% of the 29 brands responded.

Two months later in August, the Phase III report was published, indicating that Apple, Nokia, Sony LG, Ericsson and Sing-Tel were still unresponsive to communications with the coalition.

The Phase IV report just released in January “the Other Side of Apple”, takes an interesting turn and singles out Apple for persistently failing to cooperate with the Coalition, despite mounting concerns over the environmental, health and safety performance of its suppliers.

The report highlights the lack of transparency and   non co-operative stance of Apple compared to other IT brands, some of which have genuinely tried to investigate and benefit from the information to improve their supply chain control.

NGO Coalition  on Transparency:

“Poisoning and pollution are not commercial secrets” We believe that a company can independently decide the way in which it does research and development, as well as its approach to sales. We have no intention of interfering in in the commercial secrets of any company. However, when it comes to pollution emissions, occupational injuries, and harm to labor rights, it is another matter. First of all, these problems are not related to the creation of original technology and materials and given that they affect other people, they should not be treated as commercial secrets.

Source: Phase IV Report


Steve Jobs on social Responsibility:

Mr. Jobs says that with regards to supply chain social responsibility “we do more than any other company on the planet.” When he says this with so much certainty it looks as if he really does believe this. But what is the reality of the situation? The GCA works together with multinational companies to undertake independent investigations of their Chinese suppliers, as well as encourage these suppliers to make corrective measures and disclose corporate information. Nike, GE, Wal-Mart, Esquel, Unilever and a number of large enterprises are currently working together with the GCA, using the NGO‘s „China Pollution Map Database‟ to strengthen the environmental management of their supply chain.”

Source: Phase IV Report

The full report is available on IPE website  Phase IV.

The report has received international media coverage including Business Week . Reuters and CNN among western media.( CNN report).

Globalization is driving export oriented countries like China. As the world’s largest producer of toys (70%), shoes (66%), TV set (50%) and mobiles phone (47%) China is undoubtedly the workshop of the world. With its strong exports, China has recently overtaken Japan in terms of GDP and enjoys a massive trade surplus.

The dark side of this “success” is heavy pollution. With 60% of fresh water polluted and 50% of cities not meeting China’ relatively low air quality standard (according to CLSA Blue book1), Chinese people are paying a high price for this rapid development.  Can this continue without jeopardizing future generations….We will wait to see if the patient efforts of Green Choice Alliance to pressure industrial leaders manufacturing in China will bear fruit.

1CLSA Blue Book, Powell, Simon, Ma Jun, Pozon, Ina and Xie Hongxing, “China Greening: The emerging role of the public,”, February 2008
Author: CWR

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